As Tasmania moves towards opening its borders to coronavirus hotspots within weeks, parents and disability advocates are concerned about the impact it will have on young children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
- Parents of children with disabilities and underlying health conditions are concerned about the risk of Tasmania reopening its borders in December
- The Tasmanian Disability Education Reform Lobby is calling on the government to establish COVID management plans
- The state government says it will work with parents and disability advocates and will consider mandatory vaccinations for teachers
One of those nervous about the prospect is Cath Watson, whose nine-year-old daughter Lily has Down syndrome and is susceptible to respiratory illnesses.
"It's a bit concerning for Lily because ... she's not able to be vaccinated yet, and she's also part of a cohort who are quite susceptible to getting sick," Ms Watson said.
While the family is otherwise fully vaccinated, Ms Watson is worried she may need to pull her daughter out of school as coronavirus cases in Tasmania rise — despite Lily not coping well with homeschooling.
Kristen Desmond from the Tasmanian Disability Education Reform Lobby has called on the government to issue a ministerial direction to push schools to create individual COVID-safe plans for families of students with a disability, before school resumes next year.
"We don't want to see those kids segregated, we don't want to see them have no choice but to do home schooling, we really want to be able to have good conversations with the government about how students with disability can be best kept safe as we move to open up."
The Tasmanian government has promised to work with parents and disability advocates, and says it will consider mandatory vaccinations for school employees, including teachers, after introducing a mandate for disability sector workers last week.
'Very few of them become particularly unwell'
Dr Sarah McNab has seen the effects of coronavirus on children at first hand, as the director of general medicine at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital.
She understands the fear amongst parents about letting the virus into Tasmania, but said Victoria had not seen many children become particularly unwell with it.
Dr McNab said while Victoria had seen about 17,000 children diagnosed with COVID over the course of the pandemic, very few had required hospitalisation.
"Despite a very large number of children in Victoria having contracted COVID, many thousands of children, we've seen a very small handful of children who have needed hospital care, and all of them have recovered fully," Dr McNab said.
She said the sickest children had been teenagers, and urged parents to ensure they received their vaccinations.
Dr McNab said while she was hopeful a vaccine for those aged under 12 would be approved soon, in the meantime schools should try to reduce spread of the virus by ensuring there was good ventilation, having sick students stay home, providing hand sanitiser, and potentially requiring masks for older primary students.