The vaccination of children aged five to 11 to protect them against COVID-19 began yesterday with mixed stories from parents of children with disability about how the process went.
Some parents reported no issues at all with their appointments, but others experienced cancelled appointments from GPs who were yet to receive vaccine deliveries.
In Queensland in particular, parents told media about mixed messaging around which clinics would accept walk ins.
Chief Executive Officer of Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA), Mary Sayers, says the organisation has been contacted by families concerned that there weren’t enough appointments to go around.
“We are hearing from families that many places like pharmacists and GPs aren’t or can’t open up bookings until they know what number of doses they will receive,” she says.
“Parents are feeling pretty frustrated with the hurdles in place when it comes to booking a vaccine [like available] inventory, uncertainty on delivery numbers, having to use different emails for their children than they used for their own vaccinations, and trying to get help on the phone.
“Many parents of children with disability are finding it difficult to book a vaccination. Parents are concerned at the same time, the daily case numbers are going through the roof.”
There are 2.3 million Australian children in the five to 11 age group, 7.4 percent of which are estimated to have a disability (according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data), equivalent to just over 170,000 children.
The Government has announced three million doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be distributed over this month for this age group.
Children receive a smaller dose of the vaccine than adults, but still have the two doses eight weeks apart.
Lieutenant General John Frewen, the Federal COVID-19 Task Force Commander, is adamant there are enough vaccines to go around, but acknowledges there may have been frustrations around booking appointments for families.
“I do want to emphasise again that there are enough paediatric doses in the country to offer every five to 11 year old a first dose before they commence school this year…right now there are over 800,000 doses sitting in pharmacies and GPs and other State and Territory hubs around the country,” he says.
“There are another 400,000 doses being delivered as we speak, and there will be two million doses out on the shelves by 21 January, with more doses to follow after that.”
General Frewen urges families to check not only their regular GP’s vaccine availability but also pharmacies and State or Territory vaccination hubs.
With students across Australia expected to be returning to school in about two weeks, parents are seeking some protection for their children from COVID-19 before classrooms potentially become super spreader environments.
Parents and even some teachers have called for schools to be run remotely for Term 1 until all children have been able to receive their first dose of the vaccine.
While Prime Minister Scott Morrison has denied there will be any change to school term dates, education decisions are ultimately the responsibility of State and Territory Governments.
This week, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk became the first State leader to announce a delayed start to schooling.
Primary and high school students in Queensland will start school two weeks later as the State is expected to reach the peak of the Omicron wave at the end of January.
Ms Sayers says it is important that families feel their children will be as safe as possible in their school setting, as school is such an important part of a child’s upbringing.
“Parents want to be confident in sending their children back to face-to-face learning and being part of the community again, especially when a lot of the time these social activities form the fabric of their life and connection at such a young age,” explains Ms Sayers.
“Offering a vaccine to our children means that parents can have the peace of mind that their children are protected against a virus that isn’t going away.
“Children with a disability often have additional health conditions, and so testing positive with COVID-19 when they are not protected could be more serious than the milder symptoms we have heard about.
“Many families of children with disability are very keen to get their child vaccinated, as they have long been concerned about the risk of infection.”
The previous age group to which vaccinations were opened up to, 12 to 15 year olds, has reached an almost 75 percent double vaccination rate since appointments became available in August.
But for the rollout to five to 11 year olds, Ms Sayers says there should be more emphasis on children with disability being at the front of the queue for vaccinations.
“We have been let down in recent rollouts and it has caused distress and isolation for children and young people with a disability,” she says.
“These children need to be in front of the queue for this vaccine. All State and Territory Governments need to prioritise access to vaccinations for children and young people with disability.”
Victoria is leading the way with specialist vaccination hubs, Disability Liaison Officers and webinar sessions offered by local disability advocacy organisations, according to Ms Sayers, but there is no consistency with this approach across the rest of the country.
Ms Sayers has a few tips for families of children with disability looking for a vaccination:
- Book ahead for more accessible services, including Auslan interpreters and sound and communication tools
- Go to your State or Territory Government website to see what supports are available
- Speak with your GP about the vaccine and to answer any questions or address your concerns
- Look at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne website for the comprehensive podcast episode answering all frequently asked questions (FAQs) around the vaccine for children
For other news and information about COVID-19 vaccination visit our topic page.