Children as young as 12 will soon be offered the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine after the injection was approved for use in children.
Before today, only those aged 16 or over were approved to get the jab in Australia.
The US and several European countries have been giving Pfizer to children under 12 since May.
Children as young as 12 could get a coronavirus vaccine by the end of next month (stock image)
The Therapeutic Goods Administration, which oversees Australia’s drugs and vaccinations, approved the teen shot on Thursday.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (Atagi) must now give its approval before the vaccine can be rolled out to under 16s.
Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed the approval in an interview on Sunrise on Friday morning.
‘If Atagi gives the second green light, immunocompromised and children with underlying medical conditions’ [will be] immediately added to the phase 1B [of the rollout and] have access to Pfizer,” he said.
“The US is doing this for 12 to 15 year olds and they are providing the world with very, very important safety data.”
For children with underlying health conditions that could make the coronavirus more severe, approval to get the vaccine will be accelerated.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the new vaccination program aims to “protect children” and that it is an “important and welcome extra step”.
“It is significant that we planned for this outcome and obtained the vaccines if we qualify,” he said.
Official approval through the Atagi would take about four weeks amid a spate of outbreaks in schools in Victoria.
Scientists say the Delta strain of Covid-19 is spreading among children, unlike the original Wuhan strain.
Several schools in New South Wales have also been affected during the recent Sydney outbreak, including South Coogee Public School in the east of the city, where at least four children tested positive.
The outbreak forced 555 primary school students into two weeks of isolation after they were considered close contacts.
There have been a number of recent Covid cases in Australian schools, including four infected pupils at South Coogee Primary School (pictured)
In the UK, Pfizer is not yet approved for persons under the age of 16.
But those most at risk from age 12, including children with severe disabilities, immunosuppressive disorders and Down syndrome, can get the shot.
The huge change in Australia’s vaccine roll-out comes after Scott Morrison apologized for the program’s failure to meet its goals, but stressed that some of the issues were beyond his control.
The prime minister had repeatedly refused to apologize for the botched vaccination program that is lagging behind most of the developed world.
“I’m sorry we haven’t been able to achieve the numbers we hoped for early this year – of course I am,” he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
During his speech on Thursday, Scott Morrison (pictured) apologized for the program’s failure to meet its goals, but insisted that some of the problems were beyond his control.
“But what’s more important is that we’re fully focused on making sure we turn this around.”
A record 184,000 doses have been administered in the past 24 hours, but only 15 percent of the population over the age of 16 has been fully vaccinated.
The rollout began nearly five months ago, but the government has been forced to ditch multiple targets.
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers accused the prime minister of shifting blame and sending mixed messages.
“This vaccine rollout has been a debacle from the start because of Scott Morrison’s failure to send a clear message, but most importantly to get enough vaccines,” he said.
Australia has a large stock of AstraZeneca, which is manufactured in Melbourne, but not enough imported Pfizer is coming in yet for use in people under 40.
“It is significant that we planned for this result and obtained the vaccines if we qualify,” said Health Minister Greg Hunt (pictured)
More pharmacies will be rolled out earlier to ramp up immunization rates in the coming weeks.
Chemist involvement will more than triple to 470 by the end of the month, before thousands join by mid-August.
Nearly 40,000 people under 40 have received the AstraZeneca shot since the Prime Minister encouraged people to talk to a doctor about taking it.
Mr Morrison continues to challenge the country’s expert immunization panel to reconsider the advice that AstraZeneca recommends only for people over 60.
There have been six deaths in Australia from an extremely rare blood clotting disorder linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine from more than 6.1 million doses.
A 48-year-old Victorian woman and a Tasmania man, 44, were confirmed on Thursday as the two latest deaths from thrombocytopenia syndrome.
Morrison said the cases were terribly tragic, but stressed that more people’s lives are at risk if vaccination rates do not rise.
There were 124 new local cases of coronavirus recorded in NSW on Thursday, the highest since the outbreak began.
Health authorities are bracing for numbers to go even higher with at least 70 people in the numbers spending some time in the community on Thursday while contagious.
NSW Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian said none of the state’s 28 coronavirus patients in intensive care had received both doses of a vaccine.
Victoria also recorded the highest daily total from the current outbreak with 26 new local cases, but only two were contagious in the community.
The state’s COVID commander Jeroen Weimar said infected people who were fully vaccinated felt only very limited effects from the virus.
Queensland will close its border for all of NSW on Friday from 1am, joining Victoria in instituting state-wide travel restrictions.
WA closes the border with South Australia, where a cluster in Adelaide has grown to 14 cases.