HIGH numbers of vaccinated children in all communities will be vital to safely unlocking our strict COVID-19 rules, researchers from leading Australian universities claim.
Researchers argue at least 90 per cent of all Australians, including children, must be vaccinated against COVID-19 before fully relaxing public health measures and opening the international border. Such numbers questions Doherty Institute modelling that guides the federal government's vaccine targets.
This comes as the Victorian government has made a push for younger people to access a COVID vaccine from state-run vaccination centres. A new release of Pfizer will be open for 16 to 39-year-olds from Wednesday.
This is the first time 16 and 17-year-olds, without special circumstances, have been able to book a jab and comes a week after adults under-40 were granted AstraZeneca.
New research, led by Australian National University, found it would be too dangerous to relax restrictions at the federal government's 80 per cent target for adults to be fully vaccinated. This modelling showed it was too dangerous to treat COVID "like the flu" and overlook children's protection.
Vaccinating children would reduce projected COVID fatalities by 60 per cent should at least 90 per cent of the Australian population be fully vaccinated.
Kirby Institute's head of biosecurity Raina MacIntyre told The Courier Ballarat only needed to look at Dubbo or Shepparton to see how fast the Delta strain could take hold and put regional healthcare under great strain.
Professor MacIntyre pointed to nations such as the United States and Israel where children aged 12-plus were vaccinated early. In contrast, there were crippling effects on school closures and paediatric intensive care in the United Kingdom and low vaccinated areas in southern America.
In her personal opinion, Professor MacIntyre said children needed vaccine protection.
Professor MacIntyre said all virus modelling systems, whether it be the ANU report or Grattan Institute or Doherty Institute, worked on assumptions and this was not always clear to the average person.
"If only 70 to 80 per cent of eligible people are vaccinated, that number translates to 60 to 64 per cent of the whole population. That matters," Professor MacIntyre said. "...That's not enough against Delta without some restrictions - this might be face masks, restricting movement and limiting large gatherings.
"We learnt that lesson from the UK, US and Israel which, although all countries had high vaccination rates, lifted restrictions in May this year and had massive COVID outbreaks. They've had to bring back non-pharmaceutical measures, like mask mandates. We won't be able to lift all restrictions."
That's not enough against Delta without some restrictions - this might be face masks, restricting movement and limiting large gatherings.- Professor Raina MacIntyre
Professor MacIntyre's concern for regional healthcare strains echoes last week's warnings from City of Ballarat councillor Mark Harris, who is also an emergency doctor. They each made clear remote areas and the regional hospitals they rely on, like in Ballarat, were particularly vulnerable to becoming overrun.
Ballarat has 35.4 per cent of residents aged 15-plus fully vaccinated with access only starting to open up to under-40s. This is higher than the Australian jab rate of 30.9 per cent.
Committee for Ballarat chief Michael Poulton welcomed the opening-up of vaccinations to younger people but urged those who already had jab bookings to keep them, rather than be caught in an overwhelmed queue.
Mr Poulton hoped young people would help drive the city's general jab rates higher by setting an example.
"It's terrific young people have been given the opportunity and it's terrific to have so much enthusiasm from younger generations in getting the vaccine," Mr Poulton said.
"In many ways, it's like healthy eating programs when kids are going home and impacting what the family eats. If a 16-year-old has a conversation about getting a vaccination, it might make a collaborative opportunity to book in the whole family."
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