Canberra parents raise concerns over school return before COVID vaccines are made available to children

Alley Hunter with her sons Max, 7, and Kane, 4. She is concerned about sending her children to school before they're fully vaccinated. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Alley Hunter with her sons Max, 7, and Kane, 4. She is concerned about sending her children to school before they're fully vaccinated. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Chisholm mother of two Alley Hunter recalled sitting by her young sons as they struggled to breathe in a hospital's high dependency unit.

Despite being healthy boys, Max and his younger brother Kane had contracted a respiratory virus that left them both on breathing support.

It's a sight she wants no other mother to experience.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr announced on Monday the ACT's much-anticipated pathway out of lockdown.

It means Max, who is now a healthy seven-year-old in grade one, will be expected to return to the classroom despite not being vaccinated, and without having access to one approved for his age group.

But the sight of her sick son years earlier has left Ms Hunter with serious concerns.

She's one of a number of parents across the territory wondering if there will be flexibility choosing between face-to-face and at-home schooling until children under 12 can receive a jab.

"My biggest fear is that my kids don't have asthma, they don't have any underlying health conditions, and yet this [other] virus that most kids don't have any issue with landed both of my kids in hospital," she said.

"It's just something I never, ever want to have to do again."

ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry said on Monday that the government would make arrangements for students who could not attend school.

Mr Barr echoed the sentiment again on Tuesday, suggesting it would be a decision for each school to make.

"We will certainly be very sensitive to the needs of students who have, for a variety of reasons, not been able to get vaccinated yet," he said.

"It will probably end up being bespoke arrangements for those individual students."

Education Minister Yvette Berry. Picture: Karleen Minney.

Education Minister Yvette Berry. Picture: Karleen Minney.

Both Pfizer and Moderna are approved by the medical regulator for children aged 12 and above. In recent weeks, Pfizer has released promising clinical results for children aged between 5 and 11.

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Australian National University infectious diseases expert Professor Peter Collignon said overseas data had indicated about four children for every 100,000 were being hospitalised for COVID-19.

He said as long as the data available showed kids weren't being impacted as severely by the virus, he didn't see an issue with children returning to face-to-face learning environments in Canberra.

"Relatively speaking, it's not a high rate - now, it's not zero - but that's probably the worst case scenario," Professor Collignon said.

"For the next six months, one would presume that while we will still see children get infected, their parents and teachers have a bigger risk.

"And there's lots we can do to decrease that."

But for Ms Hunter, one child is too many.

She said the information she had received so far has been vague and general, but she hoped Max's school would understand her worries and offer flexibility until he could be safely vaccinated.

"My ideal situation would be being able to [send him to school] part-time, and then [have] learning from home part-time and trying to work in a partnership with the school rather than having to pull him out completely," she said.

"I would really rather work with [the school], but [pulling Max out is] certainly a consideration.

"We do have to learn to live with the virus but I'd just like him to be protected like the rest of us."

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This story 'I'd just like him to be protected': Mum's concern over unvaccinated school return first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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