SA Health reveals shortfall of vaccines for children

UPDATED | SA Health has revealed it will receive only enough paediatric COVID vaccine doses to cover half the state’s five to 11-year-olds by the end of the month when school is due to return.

Jan 10, 2022, updated Jan 10, 2022
Professor Nicola Spurrier, Don Frater and Chris McGowan front this morning's Budget and Finance Committee hearing via video link. Picture: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Professor Nicola Spurrier, Don Frater and Chris McGowan front this morning's Budget and Finance Committee hearing via video link. Picture: Tony Lewis/InDaily

It says more jabs will be available through the private system, including GPs and pharmacies – but admits some of those are experiencing delays and a lack of supply.

The disclosure was made during a parliamentary budget and finance committee hearing this morning, which also heard that authorities are considering mandating booster shots for teachers in preparedness for school returning and also the use of masks in primary schools for teachers and students.

Under questioning from committee chair Labor MLC Kyam Maher, SA Health deputy chief executive Don Frater said SA Health was expecting to receive “roughly” 70,000 paediatric doses by the end of the month – but there were about 144,000 five to 11-year-olds in South Australia eligible for a vaccine from today.

“We have more demand than what we have supply,” Frater told the committee.

“There’s about 144,000 young people most of whom will wish to be vaccinated and the Commonwealth are giving us a limited supply of vaccine during January for that same group.

“We would be expecting roughly 70,000 doses for us and I’m unclear how much will be supplied to the private sector.

“My advice is that some practitioners have had difficulty with the delivery of their doses that they have been allocated and that they would like more allocation than what they currently have.”

It comes as parents are still waiting to hear whether the new school year will start at the end of the month as scheduled, be delayed or moved to home learning.

The State Government has said it will make a decision and alert families by the end of this week.

Premier Steven Marshall this afternoon told reporters that any “issues” around vaccinating children would be more about workforce than supply, and he said the Government was “ramping up” opportunities.

“SA Health does around about 50 per cent of all the vaccinations in South Australia,” he said.

“We have 144,000 five to 11-year-olds – not all of them are going to want to have that vaccination, but we certainly have our 50 per cent ready to go with the first dose.”

Marshall said the private sector – GPs and pharmacies – “will be getting their distribution separately”.

“So we’ve got no problems whatsoever with the first dose and of course there are new doses coming in all the time so there will be no problems,” he said.

“The issue at the moment is just workforce to get those jabs into the arms but as you can see we are ramping up those opportunities all the time.

“We’re looking at all and every opportunity to get those into the arms of young South Australians so I think it’s moving in the right direction at the moment.”

Senior SA senator and Federal Government senate leader Simon Birmingham this afternoon tweeted that with public and private supply, SA would receive “more than 140,000 doses to cover every 5-11 year old in SA whose parents want a first dose”.

“Scheduled childhood vaccination deliveries into SA sites are: 54,700 doses last week , 40,000 doses this week, 45,500 doses next week,” he said.

“Now you’ve got the total numbers, inclusive of those going to SA GPs and SA Pharmacies not just SA Health.”

Contrary to Labor’s irresponsible scaremongering, scheduled childhood vaccination deliveries into SA sites are:
– 54,700 doses last week
– 40,000 doses this week
– 45,500 doses next week

That’s more than 140,000 doses to cover every 5-11yo in SA whose parents want a 1st dose.

— Simon Birmingham (@Birmo) January 10, 2022

Adelaide GP Dr Alvin Chua responded by saying his clinic was still awaiting delivery of paediatric doses, ordered on December 13 that were supposed to be delivered by last Friday.

Still awaiting our delivery that was supposed to have been delivered by 5pm Friday 7 Jan! And FTW – we ordered ours 13th December with plenty of time till the 31/12/21 order deadline! As at this am, they still can't tell us where or why! @marshall_steven @alpsa @PictonChris

— Dr. Alvin Chua (@alvchua) January 10, 2022

Chief public health officer professor Nicola Spurrier also gave evidence at the committee hearing this morning, explaining why it was not “best practice” to establish vaccination clinics at schools.

“The most important thing with vaccination is you’ve got the cold chain maintained and that means the vaccine needs to stay at a certain temperature and if you have multiple sites for administration then you’ve got to be more mindful of that,” she said.

“Also, you need a safe clinical place to be giving vaccinations and that’s in case there’s an anaphylactic reaction to a vaccine.

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“And, of course, if we are giving vaccinations to children it needs to be a safe and comfortable environment for children so they are relaxed when they are having their vaccination.

“So there are clinical issues but there’s also the pragmatics of what is the most efficient way of getting a large number of children vaccinated.

“It is less efficient if you have staff going out to every single school in South Australia than it would be to have children going into either a GP or pharmacy where there are good clinical protocols or also one of our vaccination clinics.

“So it does seem on the face of it a great idea to have vaccinations in schools but from a practical and clinical point of view there are better alternatives.”

Spurrier was also asked about whether air purifiers would help stop the spread in schools.

“There’s very little evidence for that, in fact,” she said.

“I know some states are using that more than we are here. Ventilation is important but it depends where you put the air purifier.

“To do a comprehensive assessment of every single part of the school is basically impossible.

“What is better is to have as many windows and doors open as possible and have fresh air coming into the classrooms.”

Spurrier conceded that would be harder in the winter months.

She told the committee authorities were considering making booster shots mandatory for teachers.

“We are very keen to make sure that all of our teachers who are eligible to have the third dose have had that before school goes back,” she said.

“We have now got a direction mandating a third dose for aged care, disability and healthcare so we are just looking at the evidence at the moment regarding the other mandated vaccinations which include teachers, transport workers and forensic scientists.”

Spurrier also said authorities were considering mask use in primary schools for both teachers and students.

“Having children vaccinated will reassure parents… but it is only one of those factors,” she said.

“There’s other things that we need to put in place in terms of risk mitigation.

“We will be strongly supporting the use of masks in schools for example.”

Asked if it would be mandated, she said: “We will be looking at extending the mask requirement.”

SA Health also told the committee the state expected to reach a goal of having 90 per cent of the eligible population aged 12 and over double-vaccinated soon. Authorities had hoped to reach the target by the end of December.

“The number of people turning up for second dose vaccination slowed significantly just before Christmas and during the Christmas period,” Frater said.

“We’ve seen a boost in numbers in the last 10 days so I would be expecting it in about a week’s time.”

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