5 August 2021

'Threat hanging over us': young Canberrans concerned about the impact of delta strain

| Dominic Giannini
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Nurse preparing COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine

Unvaccinated Canberrans remain concerned about what the worsening outbreak in NSW could bring. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The overnight death of a man in his 20s from COVID-19 has highlighted the risk to young people from the delta strain and the difficulty they have accessing vaccines.

The unvaccinated man with no underlying health conditions was one of two new deaths recorded in the state. He died at home almost two weeks after contracting the virus.

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said the man’s condition deteriorated rapidly. The state recorded 233 locally acquired cases today (4 August), at least 47 of which were infectious in the community.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the number of people infected in the community indicated that the outbreak had not yet hit its peak.

A total of 286 people remain in hospital, 53 are in intensive care and 23 are on ventilators.

READ ALSO Lack of police oversight jeopardising evidence against criminals

Executive director of the Youth Coalition of the ACT, Dr Justin Barker, told Region Media that the vaccination’s rollout needed to be reframed as the risk from the virus continued to shift towards younger Australians.

In NSW, around two in three cases are people under the age of 40, in part due to the higher movement rates of younger people.

Dr Barker said while it was tricky to triage vulnerable people with limited vaccine supply, he has heard concerns from youth workers under the age of 25.

“Now the risks and the capacity for young people to transmit the virus have shifted with delta,” he said.

“Canberra is such a bubble in that we do not have any cases, but there is a threat hanging over us, and a lot of young people feel like it is only a matter of time [before COVID-19 enters the ACT] and they are not vaccinated.”

Dr Justin Barker

Youth Coalition executive director Dr Justin Barker. Photo: Supplied.

When asked if NSW should use stronger language encouraging young people to get the AstraZeneca vaccine as Pfizer is not available to under 40s, Dr Chant said she continues to draw on advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI).

“[ATAGI has] looked at the situation and, at the moment, their advice is anyone in the context of this outbreak should be strongly considering [getting vaccinated] if you’re 18 and over,” she said.

“I have continually urged all age groups to strongly consider vaccination and talk to your immunisation provider.

“But we also need to protect the elderly, and I’m really concerned that we still have a number of people in their 90s, 80s, 70s, 60s that are unprotected from COVID, and we need to get them vaccinated.”

People between the ages of 30 to 39 could only book Pfizer vaccinations at Territory-run hubs from yesterday. More than 21,800 people in that age bracket booked their Pfizer jabs on the first day appointments opened.

Pfizer is the preferred vaccine for people under 60, but a younger person can access AstraZeneca in the ACT from a private provider if they provide informed consent.

READ ALSO No surge for AZ among young in the ACT

People in hotspot areas like Sydney are being encouraged to receive whatever vaccine is available, with Premier Gladys Berejikilian, Health Minister Brad Hazzard and Dr Chant continually telling young people to get AstraZeneca due to the increased risk from the delta outbreak.

Victorian Deputy Secretary of COVID-19 vaccinations Naomi Bromley today (4 August) said the state’s health department was actively considering expanding access to AstraZeneca in its mass vaccination hubs to people under the age of 60.

But the ACT remains steadfast that it would not provide AstraZeneca for people under 60 at its Calvary vaccination hub.

READ ALSO Younger Canberrans set for greater access to AZ as pharmacies prepare to join rollout

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has consistently ruled out offering AstraZeneca to people under 60 at Territory-run vaccination hubs, saying mass vaccination centres were not the place to discuss informed consent.

However, Ms Stephen-Smith has repeatedly encouraged young Canberrans to talk to their medical professional if they wish to receive the vaccine.

Only 10 per cent of people between 20 and 29 are fully vaccinated in the ACT. Around 14 per cent of people aged 30 to 39 are vaccinated.

A further 15 per cent and 21 per cent of the respective age groups have received their first vaccine dose.

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