The number of primary school-aged children getting vaccinated has plummeted in the past two weeks as experts warn overcoming parents’ complacency and reluctance will be critical in boosting uptake.

Despite the sprint to secure early bookings, the pace has slowed dramatically with about 5000 children aged 5 to 11 nationally receiving a first shot each day last week, down 89 per cent from about 47,000 daily doses in the program’s first fortnight.

Leichhardt pharmacist Christine Kelly administers a COVID-19 vaccine to 5-year-old Felix Robson.
Leichhardt pharmacist Christine Kelly administers a COVID-19 vaccine to 5-year-old Felix Robson.CREDIT:LOUISE KENNERLEY

“I think we still have our work cut out for us reassuring some parents about mRNA vaccines in kids,” said Margie Danchin, immunisation researcher at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and paediatrician at the Royal Children’s Hospital. “The initial response before school started was strong … but I didn’t expect it to slow so quickly.”

About 49 per cent of youngsters have had a first dose, with the rate dipping to 42 per cent in Queensland and 46 per cent in NSW.

Weekly average daily first doses in NSW have fallen from 14,254 in the first week of the rollout to 1230 in the week up to Saturday.

The slowdown is largely due to perception of disease severity, with complacency kicking in as many children experienced mild illness and recovered quickly, Professor Danchin said.

“It has been complicated by countries such as Sweden deciding to not broadly recommend the vaccine… And some cultural groups are still very concerned about long-term effects in children despite robust safety data.”

The boss of the COVID-19 vaccination taskforce, Lieutenant-General John Frewen, acknowledged there was “some complacency coming in around the children’s program and boosters.”

“Omicron is a dangerous virus and I would urge everyone eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible so you remain protected against COVID,” Lieutenant-General Frewen said.

“The 5- to 11-year vaccine rollout is going faster than the start of the 12- to 15-year program and is ahead of kids programs in the US, Israel and Germany. But there is always more we can do.”

Paediatrician and epidemiologist Fiona Russell agreed parents’ willingness to have children vaccinated was likely dampened as many children experienced mild illness.

“But a small number end up in hospital with severe disease, and you don’t want your child to be that statistic. Data from Denmark shows that rates of hospitalisation are roughly half that in those children who are fully vaccinated compared to those unvaccinated,” Professor Russell said.

The associate director of Clinical Research at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, Nick Wood, said parents have also deferred vaccination after a child’s infection, with the current advice to wait four to six weeks after having the virus.

“When the rollout began on January 10 there was a rush and now families are back at school the logistics of getting to clinics is more difficult. What we are seeing is very similar to the United States, where initial demand dropped quickly.”

Danielle Robson said she consulted her GP before taking her son Felix, 5, and daughter, Pella, 8, to be vaccinated at a Leichhardt pharmacy.

“Back in January so many places were booked out. A lot of our local doctors weren’t vaccinating young kids. I spoke to my GP and I got trusted advice and took the kids to our local chemist. I didn’t go down the rabbit hole of all the different opinions online.”

At her Drummoyne pharmacy, Silvi Destro said she was vaccinating about 60 children each day in early January, but that has now fallen to about 10 a day.

“Interest has really dropped off, for boosters as well. I am trying to get more kids to come in using chat groups at my daughter’s local school to see if any parents want to bring their kids in.

“We have plenty of vaccines available not enough uptake. We are asking people to call friends to try and fill spots.”

Last week the medical regulator gave the first green light for young children to receive Moderna vaccines. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved two 10 microgram doses 28 days apart for six to 11-year-olds, and ATAGI is now looking at the advice before giving the final approval.

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