Covid-19 vaccine for children: Ngāti Hine Health trust calls for school vaccination day

10:38 am on 17 December 2021

A leading Māori health provider is calling for a Covid-19 vaccination day in schools after Medsafe granted provisional approval for it to be given to children aged 5 to 11.

A 7 year-old child holds a sticker she received after getting the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Child Health Associates office in Novi, Michigan on November 3, 2021.

Photo: AFP / Jeff Kowalsky

The Pfizer vaccine for children is a lower dosage than the one used in the current rollout, but Cabinet has yet to have the final say on a rollout.

Ngāti Hine Health Trust chief executive Geoff Milner told Morning Report Māori and Pasifika health providers should be at the forefront of the rollout.

"Particularly for eligible Māori and Pacific whānau, the services really need to be taken to places of communal interest and schools fit that category," Milner said.

"So I think planning is really important to work alongside schools, where large proportions of Māori and Pacific whānau, who are a young population group, reside."

Teacher only days or sports day could be used as a chance for parents to bring their children in for a vaccine, he said.

"I think there will need to be a range of options provided but I think given parental consent is a given for this age cohort, I think we need to find places where parents and guardians, trusted medical advisers such as GPs and the vaccinators, can come together in a common place.

"I think if we leave it to parents to find their time where they can take their children to a GP practice or anywhere else, we just spread out the length of time it takes to vaccinate this cohort."

Using a joint approach with GPs, pharmacists, and health providers coming together at schools could help inform anxious parents who may have reservations about the vaccine or hesitate, he said.

"I think it's all about health literacy. The system needs to come together to provide good information, [have] trusted advisers on hand to answer parents' questions, provide time for parents to make that choice, and we will get there.

"I think it's the planning upfront that's more important than the hesitancy; the longer you leave time in terms of providing options for parents to engage their children in the vaccination process that's when hesitancy turns into misinformation."

While this year there was some hesitancy among some schools to be used as an venue for vaccinations, they needed a fresh perspective in the coming year because that health response was no longer good enough, Milner said.

Those with larger proportion of Māori and Pasifika students should also be prioritised at first because of the high risk, he said.

"But I think the type of approach I've talked about is good for everybody, that's certainly been our experience where more non-Māori people have been vaccinated by Māori health providers than Māori because the type of service delivered, at your door, in your community, is good for everyone."

Immunisation Advisory Centre director Nikki Turner told Morning Report the United States, Canada and Israel have already been vaccinating children for the past couple of months, and their data will provide reassurance to us.

"What we hope to see very soon and we're hearing back from them already is the vaccination programme appears to be going very well, we're really keen to see their real-world experience, particularly in safety data, so that data should be available to us soon."

While children are just as susceptible to being infected with Covid-19 as adults, their burden of disease appears to be less.

But there are differentiating factors in New Zealand like respiratory illness rates among children and Māori and Pasifika and poor socio-economic situations, which make children more vulnerable to the virus, Dr Turner said.

"So New Zealand has got quite a big reason to consider this. On the other side, I don't think everybody needs to rush in. There is no need to make it mandatory in children, this is just an advantage I think.

"We hope we'll see less burden of disease within big family environments, we would hope and expect to see less school disruption.

"I think the other thing to remember in New Zealand is we've not actually seen this virus really widespread in the New Zealand community, so very few of our population have immunity to it, so when it comes, we're all likely to see it, including all our children, so even though the burden overall is lower, there will still be big numbers of kids affected."

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