The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is welcoming changes to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, including new expert recommendations that children aged 12 to 15 receive the vaccine and a greater focus on vaccinating people under 40.
Following the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) provisional approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year olds, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has issued new recommendations for this age bracket.
The advisory group is recommending that from 9 August this year, children aged 12 to 15 who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, live in a remote community or have underlying medical conditions receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
This means that around 220,000 children aged between 12 to 15 years old will become eligible to receive the vaccine.
Vaccine Taskforce Commander Lieutenant General John Frewen has also indicated this morning that the Commonwealth Government is potentially changing its approach to focus on vaccinating “key transmissibility younger groups”, including people aged under 40. It comes following evidence that young adults are more likely to contract COVID-19 and drive its transmissibility in the community.
RACGP President Dr Karen Price welcomed the changes.
“Today is a positive step forward in the vaccine rollout,” she said.
“GPs will, as always, be guided by the health experts when it comes to vaccinating children and this vaccine is being delivered to children in this age bracket in numerous countries worldwide.
“Across Australia, there will be case by case discussions between GPs, children and their parents or carers based on individual risk and benefits – this is shared decision making. It is a sound approach to prioritise children who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, or those from remote areas, or with underlying medical conditions including being immunocompromised.
“We know some children, such as those with underlying medical conditions, are most at risk of severe effects if they contract COVID-19 so it’s vital that they are put at the front of this queue.”
Dr Price backed the increase in scope to vaccinate people aged under 40.
“This is a sensible and timely move that will help limit the spread of the virus, particularly in Greater Sydney,” she said.
“Younger people, especially those with pre-existing conditions, may suffer severe effects including ‘long COVID’ or worse – recently a student in her 30’s in Sydney died from COVID-19. Even those younger people with no existing health concerns may experience long-term impacts on their health that must be taken very seriously.
“In addition, there are several reasons why people under 40 are more likely to spread the virus to others. They are often more mobile and likely to engage in activities such as visiting multiple venues at night and more likely to work in casualised and frontline jobs.
“So even though their chances of suffering severe effects or dying from COVID-19 may be less than older people, it makes sense to get them vaccinated. I suspect this news will come as a great relief to many young people who are eagerly waiting to get vaccinated.
“Many younger people have wanted to be vaccinated for months but have been put at the back at the queue, even when eligible older people held out on receiving the available AstraZeneca vaccine. They have also had to endure conflicting messaging on vaccine eligibility and if and when they should be vaccinated, adding to anxiety and uncertainty.
“So, it is great news that we are putting them front of mind. I thank younger people for their patience and encourage them and their parents to talk to their GP about getting vaccinated. The more jabs in arms, the closer we get to ending lockdowns and returning life to normal.”