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Year 12 students targeted for jab by exam time amid ‘outbreak of the young’

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The Andrews government has set a target to vaccinate every Victorian year 12 student before exams start in six weeks – and to give a first dose to every child aged 12 or older by year’s end.

A day after the government made the Pfizer vaccine available to Victorians aged 16 to 39, state Education Minister James Merlino said he wanted senior students fully vaccinated by the time exams begin on October 4.

Alex Sartor receiving a Pfizer vaccination at the Melbourne Showgrounds clinic on Wednesday. Credit:Chris Hopkins

He provided no details of how schools or parents might be assisted to vaccinate year 12 students in the short time frame but said the government was asking the Commonwealth for more supply so it could hit its target.

“The target is to make sure they’re vaccinated by the time their exams start,” Mr Merlino said.

He said what the government would be “directly communicating with families, with students, with principals, is to say, if you are in year 12, if you are a VCE teacher, if you are going to be supervising exams, get vaccinated as quickly as possible”.

There are roughly 62,000 year 12 students enrolled in Victorian schools.

The state’s COVID-19 outbreak “continues to be an outbreak of young people”, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said on Wednesday. Of 538 active cases, 114 are aged nine and under and 101 are aged between 10 and 19.

Booking systems were overwhelmed on Wednesday as 16- to 39-year-olds became eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.

The Health Department’s COVID-19 response deputy secretary Naomi Bromley said 1.3 million people had tried to call the booking line after the vaccine became available at 7am.

The booking site received 50,000 hits per minute. By 4pm, more than 95,000 people had booked a vaccine appointment.

“Demand has remained high throughout the day, with 6700 online bookings made between 2pm and 3pm alone,” Victorian health authorities said.

Jake Talevski, 19, jumped out of bed at 6.50am, just ahead of more than 450,000 Pfizer appointments coming online at 7am. Just after 8am, he secured a slot at the Melbourne Showgrounds vaccination hub.

Jake Talevski and his father, Rob, were front of the queue at the Showgrounds for Jake’s vaccine. Credit:Chris Hopkins

“Doing my research, I was always in preference of getting the Pfizer,” he said. “I’ve just been waiting for the chance to actually get it done. It’s been a long time coming.”

Alex Sartor, 24, was already booked in to get the AstraZeneca vaccine at Melbourne Showgrounds but was pleased to be offered Pfizer instead.

“I always looked at the [AstraZeneca] and thought to myself, ‘I’m quite a low-risk individual, I do keep healthy,’ but there was always that thing in the back of my mind that there is that possibility of a risk,” he said. “Having the Pfizer, it kind of does eliminate that idea in the back of my head.”

Royal Australasian College of Physicians president-elect and paediatrician Jacqueline Small said the evidence to date shows COVID-19 is a mild illness for children, even with the Delta variant.

“There is no consistent evidence to show any consistent increased severity of disease associated with Delta and children,” Dr Small said. “The UK public data has shown that although there are increased rates of children being diagnosed with Delta, there has not been an increase in hospitalisations of children associated with Delta.”

Dr Small said children are more protected when adults around them have been vaccinated, something most parents can now do.

Five car-loads of P-platers were among the first to attend Victoria’s fourth drive-through vaccination hub in Werribee on Wednesday.

Justin Somerville, 20, said he found it convenient and well-organised.

Justin Somerville and Leo Frescos get the Pfizer jab at the Werribee drive-through hub.Credit:Luis Ascui

“It was super easy and didn’t take long at all,” he said. “I definitely think it will help push vaccination rates up because it makes the process much faster and a lot simpler for people.”

Bacchus Marsh Grammar principal Andrew Neal said he expected his students aged 16 and over would need no encouragement to be vaccinated, given they had been caught up in an outbreak last month in which several were infected.

“I think there is enough momentum among kids to do the right thing and get vaccinated and now that they can do it, I think they’ll be out there in droves,” he said.

With Maeve McGregor

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