The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has recommended that 12- to 15-year-olds should be added to Australia’s Covid-19 vaccination program over time, with the move welcomed by industry experts.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) says that expanding eligibly to all 12- to 15-year-olds from 13 September, comes at an opportune time, with the Delta Covid-19 variant striking many young people in Victoria and NSW – including those aged 16 and under.
“This is not a virus that only infects and hospitalises older people. It effects children too and we must vaccinate as many people who are eligible as fast as we can,” says RACGP President Dr Karen Price.
“Just this week, we learned that authorities are increasingly concerned about the number of children being infected with Covid-19. Although they are less likely to suffer from serious effects, we have seen from international experience that when you have lots of Covid-19 cases the number of children in hospital rises significantly,” she says.
Dr Price encourages parents and carers to talk with children about receiving a Covid-19 vaccination.
“It is important to carefully explain to children that this vaccine will help keep them safe and protect vulnerable people in their community,” she says.
“When discussing the vaccine with their kids, parents and carers should point out that this vaccine is being delivered to children their age in numerous countries around the world. It may be helpful to mention that they have previously been given other vaccines for diseases such as polio and chickenpox.
“Many patients, including children, are suffering from ‘information overload’ and may be a little confused as to why the eligibility requirements keep changing and why they should be vaccinated. However, I am confident that if parents and carers take the time to talk to children about why receiving this vaccine is important, they will be willing to roll up their sleeves.
“This is a very daunting time for our children. Navigating those late childhood and early adolescent years is hard enough without the challenges of remote learning, news headlines of case numbers and seeing people in their life like their parents and teachers looking visibly distressed,” says Dr Price.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) is also welcoming the move to make vaccination a priority in this age group.
“Parents can be confident that the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines has been carefully evaluated through international clinical trials and analysis of real-world data,” says RACP President Professor John Wilson.
“Paediatricians are more than ready to advise parents and carers of children about their child’s eligibility as well as respond to any questions about the safety or effectiveness of the vaccine,” says RACP President-elect, Paediatrician Jacqueline Small.
Dr Price also is urging all Australians to consider young children when making their own decisions on getting vaccinated.
“The reality is that for the time being children aged under 12 cannot be vaccinated,” she says.
“At this stage, there is no vaccine approved for children under 12. They are less likely to suffer severe effects, but the number is far from negligible. The Delta strain is far more infectious than earlier variants and striking populations who aren’t vaccinated, and that means our children.
“Young children are often cared for by older people, such as grandparents, who are very vulnerable to severe effects if they contract Covid-19. Keep in mind too that there is emerging evidence of children under three being the most likely source of Covid-19 transmission within households.
“Getting vaccinated is something we can do to protect young children who are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine, so if you are eligible – please get yourself vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Remind older family members too not to wait any longer or to at least discuss with their GP if there is still some hesitation. If we vaccinate as many people as possible, we will limit transmissibility in our communities and protect the most vulnerable.
“So, when facing the decision of whether to be vaccinated or not, please don’t just think about yourself. Think about those who don’t even have the option of being vaccinated and what your decision could mean for them.
“Don’t forget that vaccination has always been about both the individual and the broader community.”