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‘We can make our own decisions’: Young teens make case for vaccine

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Seventeen-year-old Alexandra Munoz has had enough of waiting for a coronavirus vaccine.

Alexandra is home-schooling in Pascoe Vale South and while eligible and keen for a vaccination, limited supply meant she was yet to get one after she was given health advice not to receive AstraZeneca.

17 yr old Alexandra Muñoz with her mother Alyssa Petit. Alexandra is keen to have the vaccine.Credit:Justin McManus

“Not being vaccinated affects everything we do,” the Year 11 student said. “All we want is to get back to school, get back to normal and not have to worry about spreading the virus to our family.”

The government revealed on Friday that small groups of year 12 students in Greater Melbourne could return to campuses before the end of the month even as the city remained in lockdown, with Premier Daniel Andrews also proposing a national scheme to have senior students vaccinated by the end of the year.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has approved the Pfizer vaccine for people 16 years old and above but limited its availability in people aged 12 to 15 to those who are Indigenous or who have an underlying health condition.

With children and teenagers accounting for nearly half of all active cases in the state, Alexandra just wanted to get on with it and grant access to younger people.

“The government should just let us have the vaccine. We can make our own decisions and we’re old enough to know what’s good or bad. It’s been highly researched and they [scientists] know what they’re doing and we just want to get back to school.”

Burnet Institute epidemiologist Mike Toole said the case numbers showed COVID-19 posed much more than a minimal risk to children or young adolescents.

“We know that children are just as vulnerable to infection as older age groups, that they are just as likely to spread the virus and that they are consequently at risk … of severe disease,” Professor Toole said.

“The more children are infected, the more children there will be who will get severe disease and have to be hospitalised and placed into intensive care.”

Still, Professor Toole said the government was right to prioritise young adults over young adolescents due to the lack of vaccine supply.

“It’s very difficult ethically to say who should be the priority group when we don’t have enough vaccine for everybody,” Professor Toole said.

“I certainly agree with the current approach of prioritising young adults because many are essential workers and so if we vaccinate them, that will in turn protect their children and families.”

Thirteen-year-old Tess Devine said it was hugely frustrating that she and her friends could not access the vaccine.

Tess Devine, 13, is keen to get vaccinated.

“The Delta variant really frightens me a lot more than the original [Wuhan strain] … because it is just so much more transmissible,” Tess said. “All children, no matter what their age, deserve to be vaccinated and protected.”

Tess said she found it difficult to understand why her brother, who is year 10, and her sister, who is year 12, could be vaccinated but she could not.

“It’s a bit random, especially given we all catch the same train, go to the same school and do the same things together,” she said.

Her mother, Angela McMahon, said she was furious at the slow pace of the vaccine roll-out.

“It’s been a complete shambles and [the government] needs to do better,” she said. “Our kids deserve to be vaccinated and protected.”

AMA Victoria president Roderick McRae said opening up vaccination to younger adolescents and children, even with the risks they faced, could cause wider disruption because of the lack of supply.

“We have to target the various recipient groups,” Dr McRae said. “We don’t want to cause pandemonium by opening up vaccination to 12- to 15-year-olds when there is an inadequate supply available to older age groups.

“We need very wise heads to sensibly understand where we can get the biggest efficacy for the limited doses that we have.”

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