This crucial demographic is being left behind in COVID ‘vaccination blitz’, experts fear

Vaccinating Australians aged 20-39 is key to beating Delta, says epidemiologist MaryLouise McLaws.

Vaccinating Australians aged 20-39 is key to beating Delta, says epidemiologist MaryLouise McLaws. Photo: Getty

Despite a record day of COVID-19 vaccinations, experts fear the demographic key to slowing the spread of the Delta variant is being left behind by Australia’s vaccine rollout.

On Tuesday, the nation celebrated a daily record of 279,465 vaccine doses administered across the country, but some say the jabs aren’t going where they are most needed.

The number of inoculations in New South Wales has soared since the state’s change of tactics in its battle against the Delta variant, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian announcing a “vaccination blitz” on Tuesday.

Dr Susan Pearce from NSW Health said the state’s “mammoth” vaccination effort would see all 530,000 of the Pfizer vaccines recently allocated to the state administered to 20-to-39-year-olds in high-risk areas within two and a half weeks.

But University of NSW epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws said many young people still “can’t get a vaccine for love nor money”.

The state’s bid to beat back Delta will fail if it doesn’t do more to get more young people vaccinated, Professor McLaws said, as younger demographics are comprising a growing number of cases.

“We’ve had the evidence since last year that young adults have had the majority of the burden of the infection, and now they are suffering nearly half of all cases,” Professor McLaws told The New Daily.

“That’s an enormous burden, and the young adults would like to get vaccinated, but I keep getting people telling me that they can’t get access – they can’t even get access to AstraZeneca.”

‘A very important age group’

Ms Berejiklian on Tuesday described adults aged 20 to 39 as “a very important age group” for COVID vaccinations in the coming weeks.

Covid vaccine young adults

New South Wales recorded 106,122 vaccine doses administered on Tuesday. Photo: AAP

On Tuesday, NSW fell just short of its daily jabs record, with 106,122 vaccine doses administered. The ACT (9946 vaccines), Victoria (79,810) and Western Australia (25,122) all reported record-breaking numbers.

Despite this, the vaccine rollout for 20-39-year-olds is yet to ramp up.

“For 20-39-year-olds, the range of uptake for a first dose ranges from 18 per cent to 29 per cent. That’s a gross neglect – a neglect of a group of really important people,” Professor McLaws said of government failures to prioritise young people.

“Their uptake of the second dose is as neglectful [on the part of government] – that ranges from nine per cent to 16 per cent.”

Why inoculating the young is vital

Australian Medical Association NSW President Danielle McMullen told The New Daily the majority of vaccinations across the state are being administered by GPs, and young adults should get whichever vaccine they can.

Most essential workers are in the 20-39-year-old bracket, and are therefore exposed to a higher risk of catching the virus. On Tuesday Ms Berejiklian revealed 75 per cent of new cases were among under-40s.

“They are key because often they are working in roles that can’t work from home, a lot of our supermarket workers, factory workers, tradies, apprentices, delivery drivers, all sorts of work roles who are still out and about in the community are often in that age bracket,” Dr McMullen explained.

“Therefore they pose a transmission risk because they still need to be out.”

Professor McLaws said the difficulty was to “get the vaccine to the people, not expect the people to go to the vaccine”.

“At the moment, the 20 to 39-year-olds are telling me they can’t get a vaccine – either Pfizer or AstraZeneca – for love nor money, and they don’t know where to get it, and they can’t all take time off work,” she said.

Professor McLaws has been calling for governments to prioritise young people in the vaccine rollout for months.

“They haven’t been the focus, and [government has] misunderstood how important they are,” she said.

“The message right from the beginning from last year should’ve been, ’20-to-39-year-olds, we are seeing that you are suffering more from this disease than anyone else’.

“‘Yes, you have a lower risk of death, but you are really important in preventing the spread so we are going to start vaccinating you.'”

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