The health minister, Greg Hunt, expects to be able to make the Moderna coronavirus jab available to young Australians as the vaccination program ramps up in coming weeks.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has already given the green light for the Pfizer vaccine to be available for 12-year-olds and above, with bookings to start from 13 September.
“This fortnight we’re expecting to get advice from the TGA on Moderna for 12- to 17-year- olds … I’m hopeful that will be added which will give a second vaccine,” Hunt told Sky News.
As of Saturday, more than 56% of Australians aged 16 and above had had one jab, while nearly 34% had had two doses.
Under the national Covid-19 recovery plan, the easing of virus restrictions will begin when double-dose vaccinations of 70% and 80% in over 16-year-olds have been reached.
Labor’s health spokesperson, Mark Butler, believes it would be better if over-12s were included in those targets.
“I have said, as have a number of premiers, that they should be counted as part of the 70-80% threshold,” he told the ABC’s Insiders program.
“If they are eligible for the vaccine, other groups are really only gaining eligibility for Pfizer vaccines now … What is the argument for not including them? They get the virus, they can get unwell, they can pass it on to other people.”
On Sunday, Butler announced his support for vaccine passports to enter pubs and restaurants and also backed the New South Wales government’s requirement for teachers and childcare workers to be vaccinated.
He backed vaccine mandates for frontline workers despite the fact unions and Labor premiers have only argued for implemented priority access, without so far mandating vaccinations.
Butler also supported the right of states with no Covid to maintain border restrictions at 70% vaccination rates, afterHunt warned that premiers would need reopen at that mark or nominate an alternative because they could not avoid Covid infections for ever.
In a bid to help schools reopen amid the greater Sydney and NSW outbreak, the Berejiklian government has declared that from 8 November, vaccinations for all school staff across all sectors will be mandatory. Staff will gain priority access at the Qudos Bank Arena mass vaccination centre.
The NSW Teachers Federation has campaigned for priority access and warned not all teachers may be vaccinated in time, strongly encouraging teachers to be vaccinated but stopping short of backing the mandate.
Queensland’s Palaszczuk government has granted priority access for teachers, while in Victoria vaccinations are strongly encouraged – but neither state has so far mandated them.
Asked if he supported vaccine mandates for teachers and childcare workers, Butler replied “I do”, adding the preconditions “that everyone has access to a vaccine” and that systems must be in place to reliably prove a person has been vaccinated.
“Once everyone has access, although it is a choice whether or not you get vaccinated, there will be consequences to your choice,” he told ABC TV’s Insiders.
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Butler said proof of vaccination would be “very critical” if governments require vaccines “to get access to go to a pub, for example, [or to get] into an aged-care facility to see your mum, or getting into hospital to see a loved one after a car crash”.
Butler said he had “no problem” with vaccines being required to enter pubs, restaurants or other venues. “I think that’s where we are headed.”
Earlier in August, Scott Morrison backed vaccine passports and businesses’ right to refuse entry to unvaccinated people, by noting unvaccinated people pose a higher public health risk to others.
The Morrison government and state and territory leaders are locked in a war of words about reopening borders once the national plan’s 70% and 80% vaccine targets for the adult population are reached.
The four-stage national plan says that once 70% vaccination rates are reached, lockdowns will be “less likely but possible” and restrictions should be eased for vaccinated people – but it does not declare state borders will open.
Along with Western Australia, Queensland and even Liberal-led Tasmania have reserved the right to maintain border restrictions until higher rates of vaccination are reached.
On Sunday, Hunt claimed there was still a “common national direction” to reopen once the “very important” milestones of 70% and 80% were reached.
Hunt disagreed that the plan amounted to intentionally allowing Covid into states like WA. “At some point children are going to have to see grandparents. If not at that point, when?” he asked Sky News.
“There is no scenario under which any epidemiologist or adviser that I have seen says that any country can avoid this for ever.”
Butler acknowledged it would be “very difficult for states that don’t currently have Covid suddenly to fling open the borders” at the 70% mark.
“I don’t think their people will allow the premiers to do that and I don’t think that will be the public health advice that they get from their state chief health officers.”
Butler refused to nominate a reopening target, noting even national cabinet had not done so, instead calling on Morrison “to lead” by deciding the issue with state and territory leaders “as soon as possible”.