Covid vaccine rollout: Decision time for plan to vaccinate children

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says children aged 12 to 15 will soon become eligible for a vaccine. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says children aged 12 to 15 will soon become eligible for a vaccine. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

A plan to vaccinate children aged 12 to 15 is set to be unveiled on Friday, as the national cabinet plots the next steps in the plan to end lockdowns and heavy coronavirus restrictions.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday confirmed that 1.2 million Australian children would be added to the rollout, pending final advice from its expert vaccines panel ATAGI.

The head of the vaccine rollout, Lieutenant-General John Frewen, briefed cabinet's national security committee on the plan on Thursday.

It will be put to state and territory leaders for approval at Friday's national cabinet meeting.

Leaders will also discuss what exemptions vaccinated people might be granted once Australia hits the 70 per cent and 80 per cent vaccination targets agreed to under the national roadmap.

Mr Morrison has this week stepped up pressure on the states to hold true to the plan, amid growing doubts over whether the Doherty Institute modelling which underpins the roadmap can still be relied upon given the worsening Delta outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne.

The Prime Minister said on Thursday morning that with some 1.8 million doses now being administered across Australia each week, the addition of children aged 12 to 15 was "well within the capability of the vaccination program".

A rollout record 335,420 doses were administered in the most recent 24-hour period, with more than 32 per of over-16s now fully vaccinated.

The ATAGI panel has already approved the Pfizer vaccine for at-risk 12- to 15-year-olds, but has yet to make a final call on its use for other adolescents.

While the cohort is set to become eligible for the jab, it will not be included in the 70 per cent and 80 per cent community-wide targets, which need to be hit before restrictions start to ease under the national reopening plan.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has been pushing for 12- to 15-year-olds to be added to the national rollout, as Delta outbreaks in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne all strike proportionately high numbers of younger, mostly unvaccinated, people.

About 38 per cent of the cases in Canberra's outbreak are people aged under 17.

Mr Barr confirmed on Thursday that the ACT would deviate from the national strategy and include 12- to 15-year-olds in its own vaccination targets.

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Labor's Mark Butler said with countries such as the US and Canada vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds as far back as May, Mr Morrison needed to explain why his government had dragged its feet in protecting a cohort which had been on the the "front line" of Australia's "third wave".

"Scott Morrison must also explain to Australia's parents why he refuses to count their 12- to 15-year-old children as part of Australia's national plan," he said.

"We deserve - parents deserve - a clear commitment from Scott Morrison about the rate of vaccination for Australia's high school students as we move to the next phases of the national plan."

Greens health spokeswoman Rachel Siewert said it was "sickening" that children weren't included in the vaccination targets.

"It is not good enough to say we will 'try' and vaccinate kids. We need specific targets, including a timeline," she said.

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This story Vaccinating young teenagers on national cabinet agenda first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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