Tests in hand, kids jabbed, parents are ready for the first day of school

For our free coronavirus pandemic coverage, learn more here.

On the way to get his vaccination for school on Monday, Raf Sheehan jumped, one foot after another, along a series of green stickers attached to the floor of a mass vaccination site in Carlton on Saturday afternoon.

The Royal Exhibition Building has been temporarily adorned with an “Enchanted Forest of Protection”, made of decorations that guide young children to a nurse to be jabbed.

Sally Jeremiah with her kids, eight-year-old Stella and 10-year-old Raf.Credit:Scott McNaughton

Raf, 10, and his sister Stella, 8, are two among hundreds of thousands of Victorian primary school pupils who are due to return to school next week.

The return of students and teachers to the classroom for the start of term 1 has parents and health authorities braced for an increase in COVID-19 cases.

But Raf and Stella are still keen to get back into the classroom and catch up with their friends and teachers.

“I’m pretty nervous but pretty excited, a bit of both, and I’m happy that I got my jab,” Raf said after receiving his shot on Saturday.

“I’m really excited,” said Stella, “because I get to be with my friends.”

Stella, 8, and Raf, 10, at the Exhibition Centre on Saturday.Credit:Scott McNaughton

Raf and Stella’s mum, Sally Jeremiah, promised the pair that after they got their vaccine they could go see the new Spiderman movie at the IMAX cinema across from the vaccination site.

Ms Jeremiah picked up their supply of rapid antigen tests from Footscray City Primary school on Friday in preparation for the twice-weekly testing regime for both the kids while they were in the classroom.

“We’ve got a great supply of free RATs that we’re going to do on a periodic basis. So, that should really lessen their transmission and make sure that everyone’s just sort of staying away from school when they are unlucky enough to have it,” she said.

“If there is a positive case … we’re just more concerned about the welfare of the child and not pointing fingers.”

On Saturday afternoon at the Exhibition Building, families filed in and out of the mass vaccination centre. Children emerged clutching lollipops with a small sticking plaster on their shoulder. There were few tears.

To date, 231,286 children aged five to 11 in Victoria have been vaccinated with one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, which equates to almost 40 per cent of that age group. Another 12,991 children are booked in to get the jab at state-run clinics over the next week.

Victoria’s COVID-19 response commander, Jeroen Weimar, acknowledged that there was apprehension among some parents and children about returning to school, but schools were well-prepared.

“There is so much work that the whole education system … has done, that our teachers have done, that our Education Department has done, to get schools ready to make sure we can have a normal educational year,” Mr Weimar said on Saturday.

He said authorities do expect to see a spike in cases next week, but that hospitals aren’t seeing high numbers of young people in hospital with COVID-19.

“I think that we’re all a bit concerned as we step back into a world where we’ve got such high levels of activity.”

Infectious Disease paediatrician at Sydney University Robert Booy said primary school children already have robust immune systems, which results in less than 5 per cent developing severe medical issues from the Omicron variant.

Raf, 10, puts a green sticker on a branch at the Royal Exhibition Centre in Carlton.Credit:Scott McNaughton

“There is a minority of children, 5 per cent or fewer, who have major medical problems, which means chronic issue with immune system – for example cancer or leukaemia or a transplant, a chronic problem with their heart, lung, liver, kidneys – and those are the children who can get it severely,” he said.

He said children also got rid of the virus quicker than adults when they caught it.

“Primary school aged children have a viral load for a shorter period and are less likely to transmit, teachers and parents are more likely to contract COVID-19 from another person in the community than a child who came from school,” he said.

The spread of the disease will also depend on factors like class size and the extent to which the community embraced the mitigation measures, said Fiona Russell, a leading vaccine expert based at the University of Melbourne.

“Infectious will occur in the school, but with mitigation matters, we’re hoping to reduce that and the risk to kids is lower,” she said.

“We would think there would be an increase, but if the RAT testing is implemented and family uptake is high, then we hope it will be minimised. We really are very reliant on community compliance to do testing as recommended.”

Vaccination clinics at Dandenong Plaza, Caroline Springs, Sunshine Hospital, and Campbellfield Ford opened up to walk-up appointments for children in a bid to speed up the process and authorities plan to set up another 15 pop-up sites at schools next week.

To date, authorities have delivered 4.5 million rapid antigen tests to state, Catholic and independent schools in preparation for the start of the year, with another 2 million to be delivered in coming days.

Father Kartik Roa holds daughter Harper, six, dressed as an angel, with mum Elisa and baby Micah.Credit:Scott McNaughton

For mum Elisa Rao, whose six-year-old daughter Harper starts year 1 on Monday, a bigger consideration was the ongoing impact of isolation on her children, and her desire to see her kids become more independent.

Harper was also jabbed at the Royal Exhibition Building on Saturday afternoon, dressed in attire she picked: an angel.

“We can do what we can do to protect ourselves and others, which is what we are doing by getting vaccinated. But on other hand? I’ve seen my children suffer being at home from the virus as well,” she said.

Stay across the most crucial developments related to the pandemic with the Coronavirus Update. Sign up for the weekly newsletter.

Most Viewed in National

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article