Shaky start to child COVID vaccinations for some, as parents report cancellations

Shaky start to child COVID vaccinations for some, as parents report cancellations

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COVID-19 vaccinations for children aged five to 11 at GPs, pharmacies and state-run clinics had a shaky start on Monday, with hundreds of parents reporting bookings for their children being cancelled or delayed.

GPs and pharmacists reported difficulty in maintaining staff levels, with many health workers off or isolating due to coronavirus infections. And scores of parents whose children were booked in at state-run facilities reported having their bookings abruptly shifted.

Among them was Maaike Moller, who booked her two children’s vaccine slots weeks ago. She arrived at a GP clinic in Rosebud with Oscar, 10, and Annabel, 7, only to find their appointments cancelled.

Maaike Moller, with children Oscar and Annabel, outside the Rosebud centre on Monday.Credit:Joe Armao

“The kids were disappointed,” said Ms Moller, who was told she would be contacted with another booking time. She was confident her children would soon be vaccinated even if Monday’s events were frustrating.

The GP who runs the centre, Sally Shaw, said child vaccine bookings had been cancelled on Monday morning after a misunderstanding about vaccine expiry dates – the centre’s vaccines were initially thought to be past their use-by date but it transpired they were not.

Dr Shaw said her clinics were battling to find enough staff, with many affected by coronavirus infections. “It’s terrible – since New Year’s Eve, we’ve had 30 staff off,” she said.

Dozens of parents told The Age they had been contacted on Monday by their GP or pharmacy and told their child’s COVID-19 vaccine booking would be delayed due to a shortage in supply. Others who had appointments at some state-run vaccine clinics – particularly Sandown Racecourse – were shifted to later in January or in some cases February.

One mother, Cate Turner, who had booked her child at a Richmond GP in mid-December and had the booking confirmed on 28 December, was told her appointment needed to be rescheduled “due to unprecedented demand”.

“If I’d known that it was going to be cancelled, I would have quickly looked around for other places,” she said. “I’ve now made an appointment elsewhere for the 28th but we know he’s going back to school on the 31st.”

Another parent, Michelle, who asked that her surname not be used, said her partner had tried to get a booking at their local Coburg pharmacy only to be told it had “children’s vaccinations available but not enough staff to administer them – due to staff isolating”.

Schools in Victoria will be used as COVID-19 vaccination sites for children aged five to 11 from late January and into February.

The Australian Medical Association’s Victorian branch and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners have said deliveries of child vaccines to GPs and pharmacies had been “unreliable”.

But federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said there was ample supply of vaccines for children.

“Every child that wants to be vaccinated can be vaccinated,” Mr Hunt said on Sunday.

On Monday, the federal Health Department said in a statement that 2 million COVID-19 paediatric doses had been cleared for use and that around 835,000 doses were already with GPs, pharmacies and state-run vaccination clinics.

“There are more than enough COVID-19 vaccines in the country to ensure all children aged five to 11 can receive a first dose before the end of January,” the statement said.

Many parents who had their vaccination cancelled or delayed were dismayed because they had hoped their child would have boosted immunity to coronavirus from their first jab before school returns at the end of January.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday said he did not believe it would be necessary to delay the return to school in Victoria and NSW.

“We need kids back at school learning. We need kids back at school because it also has very significant impacts on workforce availability, particularly in our health sector,” he said. “Above and beyond all of those issues is the health and welfare of our kids and those who work in our schools.”

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said on Monday that a “consistent approach to return to school is very important” and that all the states would be discussing this week with the Commonwealth how a consistent approach in schools could be adopted.

Kids needed to return to school “as quickly as possible”, and Victoria needed to “keep them back at school”, Mr Foley said.

“Kids have done it really hard over the last two years,” he said. “They’ve missed a lot of school to protect the rest of the community,” and, to avoid this, as many needed to be vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Victoria’s acting Chief Health Officer Ben Cowie, however, said the proportion of children getting coronavirus dropped drastically once schools closed in December.

“The proportion of infections among five to 11-year-olds was in excess of 30 per cent of total infections from sort of late November into early December, and that is now 4 per cent,” he said, pointing to the importance of vaccinations.

“It’s really important for kids to be able to attend school on site, and we need to do everything we can to reduce transmission that occurs in association with that.”

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clarification

An earlier version of this story said child vaccines at Peninsula Vaccination Centre were expired. They were not; staff at the centre had incorrectly understood the expiration and thaw date.

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