Vulnerable people still not vaccinated as NSW reopens

A pop-up testing and vaccination clinic in Newtown. Remote and regional communities have not had the same service. Photo: Pip Hinman

As the newly installed Premier Dominic Perrottet eased restrictions for fully vaccinated people in New South Wales on October 11, in the Hunter region are being infected at an alarming rate. At least 60 First Nations people in the Hunter caught the virus last week.

Recreation facilities will reopen with density limits for up to 5000 people, but an exemption has been given for Everest, the world’s richest . Ten thousand people will be able to gather for the race on October 16, in a bid to up the gambling stakes for the $15 million prize.

The NSW Department of Education said on-site learning will return with on October 25, a week earlier than planned. Perrottet justified this on the grounds that 72.8% of the population is fully vaccinated, despite this not including approximately 20% of people under 16 years of age.

OzSAGE, a network of Australian epidemiological experts, pointed out that children are the and are therefore likely to contribute to community transmission. Children between the ages of 12 and 15 have been eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations only since September 13. As at October 11, .

Despite the danger of unvaccinated children transmitting the virus, the NSW government has aged 12 and under to wear masks at school. Its accelerated plan to reopen state schools (NSWTF), which had been working on a staged return for children in early November.

This was the the government made changes to the school reopening plan without consulting educators. It has also to prioritise teachers in the vaccine rollout.

Modelling from the Doherty Institute estimated that, in the most likely post-opening scenario, “infected in the first six months after reopening, with 2,400 hospitalisations, 206 ICU admissions and 57 child deaths in that time”. 

The NSWTF said the accelerated reopening plan will stop teachers from COVID-19 health and safety settings: It will mean students and teachers return while audits are still underway for schools’ ventilation requirements.

Meanwhile, NSW Department of Health figures show are as low as 30 or 40%. In suburbs near large universities, such as Kingsford, Chippendale, Macquarie University and Ultimo, vaccination rates lag. By October 9, less than 50% of eligible residents in those suburbs had received two doses of vaccination.

, president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), said on October 7 that the AMA is “very concerned” by Perrottet’s “apparent shift in approach”. “The changes to the roadmap have occurred at the eleventh hour without the presence of the chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, at the announcement.”

Meanwhile, the government’s “crisis cabinet” has become an “Economic Recovery Committee”, suggesting, Khorshid said, “that health advice will no longer guide the NSW government”.

By October 7,  had died from COVID-19. Yawuru woman Kalinda Griffiths, from said: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have experienced an incidence rate that is almost twice that of non-Indigenous people throughout the Delta outbreak.” She added that the proportion of deaths in those aged 40 to 59 years is “about three times higher than that of the non-Indigenous population”.

Griffiths, an epidemiologist, said OzSAGE wants 95% to 100% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 12 to be fully vaccinated before states and territories open up.

The easing of restrictions has also concerned thousands of people with disabilities. People with Disability Australia reported on October 11 that had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19; among NDIS participants aged between 12 and 15, the rate was just 4.8%.

These low rates of vaccination among people who are to develop serious illness or die from COVID-19 are, in large part, a consequence of their in the vaccine rollout.

president Samantha Connor said on October 11 that, while “many think that a loosening of lockdown means the worst is over, the opposite is true for many people with disability, because for them the worst is yet to come”. She said the NSW government, in particular, “need[s] to understand that putting at-risk people in further danger is unconscionable”. She said it must “set vaccination targets and improve vaccination strategies for people with disability and their support workers to ensure people with disability can be safe”.

The draft commissioners’ report from the  released on September 27 said state governments should not begin lifting stay-at-home orders until all people with disability have had the .

a layered and combined protection strategy. It wants governments to ensure ventilation for all buildings, along with vaccines, testing, tracing and non-pharmaceutical interventions including: crowd control; movement restrictions; masks; blended learning and working (online and face-to-face mix); curfews; lockdowns; and other measures that reduce contact between people.