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COVID-19 vaccination rates in regional Queensland children among lowest in Australia, but why?

Queensland children are among the least protected against COVID-19, with data showing their vaccination rates are falling well behind kids in every other state and territory.

Key points:

National data shows Queensland children aged 5-11 have some of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the countryThe health department warns a spike in COVID-19 cases is likely once the weather coolsAn expert says offering the vaccines in locations where children are helps parents to take up the opportunity

The figures are particularly concerning as the state’s health department warns more waves of COVID are likely as winter begins.

The council with the lowest COVID vaccination rates for children aged 5 to 11 is the Aboriginal Cherbourg Shire, 250 kilometres north-west of Brisbane, followed by the Isaac Shire in Central Queensland where fewer than one in 10 kids have had two doses.

Of the 419 local government areas across the country that record COVID vaccination figures, Queensland regions make up more than half of the bottom 5 per cent.

Larger centres, including the state’s largest regional hubs – the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast – are among the bottom of the list, coming in at number 376 and 394, with one-in-five receiving two jabs.

The Aboriginal shire of Cherbourg has run consistent campaigns to vaccinate residents.(ABC Southern Qld: Jon Daly)

The highest-ranked council area in Queensland for childhood COVID vaccinations is Brisbane, where fewer than half of the city’s children have been given their two doses.

By comparison, the adult vaccination rate topped 93 per cent statewide.

Brisbane is ranked at 71st in the country below the regional Victorian cities of Ballarat and Ararat, and the areas of Clarence and Kingborough in Tasmania.

Adelaide and Hobart have the highest rates of vaccination for children under 11.

A beach dotted with people with blue skies. The Sunshine Coast’s childhood COVID vaccination rate is among the lowest in the country.(ABC News: Tara Cassidy)

COVID came for Christmas

The COVID-19 vaccines only became available for children in Queensland in early January, weeks after border restrictions eased on December 13 and the virus began to spread across the state.

After an initial peak, COVID made it on to the school grounds and as of April 1, Queensland Health was reporting more than 2,300 positive COVID cases in students each day, with dozens treated in hospital.

By that time, more than 100,000 Queensland students, or about 20 per cent, had been vaccinated.

Two weeks later, Queensland Health reported more than 88,000 primary-aged children had been infected with COVID-19, but said there had also been a “gradual decline” from that earlier peak.

What more can health workers do?

The state’s health department has continually encouraged parents and carers to have children vaccinated, and warns they face longer-lasting symptoms than infected adults. So why are the figures so low?

Maryke Steffens from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) has been closely watching all of the different ways the government has been encouraging families to consent to a dose of the vaccines.

One way is obvious: offer the vaccines where the kids are.

Dr Steffens said Victoria had set up vaccination locations at museums, schools and zoos.

“You make it easy for parents to take their kids there, then it makes sense that more people are going to take that opportunity to get the vaccine,” she said.

The other goal was to find out what was holding people back from having a vaccine and to gently and kindly remind them of the facts.

Dr Steffens has an idea of what’s holding people back.

Why some still worry about the vaccine

A NCIRS survey of more than 700 people from October 2020 to January 2022 found the biggest reasons for not wanting to vaccinate children were: “It may not be safe”, “it may not work well enough” and at a much lower level, “COVID-19 isn’t serious”.

group of graphs The survey explored why people were reluctant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
 (Supplied: NCIRS)

Dr Steffens said while vaccine mandates had been applied to encourage adults to have two jabs, she believes “we need to think very carefully” about applying that to children.

Head and shoulders image of woman with dark hair Maryke Steffens says the location of vaccination clinics can influence whether people take up the opportunity.(Supplied: NCIRS)

A spokeswoman for Queensland Health said the department’s quest to vaccinate the state’s children was a work in progress, and pointed to its 100 “pop-up and outreach clinics”, including in regional and rural areas.

“The clinics were made available during the Easter school holidays as well as through the first two weeks of the second term,” she said.

They were run in shopping centres, schools, tourism locations and other places popular with families.

But the stakes are high.

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As the weather cools, there is a greater risk of new COVID waves infecting the young, which could further disrupt schooling.

The department says, alongside the work already being done by the federal government, it’s now running a major marketing campaign to promote vaccination of young children.

Posted 13 May 202213 May 2022Fri 13 May 2022 at 9:59pm, updated 13 May 202213 May 2022Fri 13 May 2022 at 10:13pm

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Krzysztof Stanowicz

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