Canberra: A report from Australia’s Mitchell Institute, an education and health policy think tank, revealed on Thursday that as the nation opens up and learns to live with Covid-19, childcare centres could become the new frontline in the fight against the pandemic.
The report noted that while children aged under four only make up 6 per cent of Australia’s population, they could, however, end up representing about 19 per cent of the nation’s unvaccinated population, reports Xinhua news agency.
By the end of November, children in Australia aged between five and 11 will likely be eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, leaving the under-fives as the only age group ineligible for any type of vaccine.
“Over 1.3 million children use early childhood education and care services every year. These services are where large groups of unvaccinated people will mix on a regular basis,” the report said.
This, coupled with the fact as noted by the report that younger children are 40 per cent more likely to transmit Covid-19 than older children, could mean most of Australia’s new infections will be among its youngest citizens.
And while instances of severe Covid-19 infection and hospitalisation are rare, about two in 1,000, according to modelling from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, high rates of infection among young children could spread to older family members, childcare workers and cause major disruptions to children’s learning and development.
Professor Fiona Russell from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) said the health risks would need to be balanced with the importance of face-to-face learning for children at this age.
She suggested mitigation strategies, such as “vaccination of staff and children over 12 years of age, rapid testing and mask-wearing”.
“It’s important that these strategies are age-appropriate and strike a balance between infection control and enabling learning and social interactions.”
The report called for the Australian government to commit to a plan that would provide schools and childcare centres with the resources they need to meet this looming threat.