Supply shortage hampers race to vaccinate year 12s before VCE exams

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Private VCE English tutor Sue Wilson is used to helping her students be in peak mental shape for their exams, but until this week that had never included trying to book them in for a vaccination.

Ms Wilson has been scrambling to secure a booking for three of her students after the government school they attend in Melbourne’s east encouraged them late last week to book via the state government’s coronavirus website.

English tutor Sue Wilson has tried without luck to book in her VCE students for a vaccination ahead of their English exam. Credit:Chris Hopkins

The earliest booking Ms Wilson said she could find was in early October, just as the first exam is set to be held.

“I think it’s hot air, it’s not helpful at all and it may be giving some students false hope,” she said of the Andrews government’s target to vaccinate year 12 students in time for exams.

Principals are also scrambling to book VCE students in for a COVID-19 jab before exams start, but are being frustrated by a lack of supply of Pfizer.

The supply crunch has prompted Andrews government ministers to qualify the target Education Minister James Merlino set last week to vaccinate students by the time exams start, stating the goal is to give students at least one dose.

Schools have begun approaching GP clinics to try to make bookings for their students, but in some cases been told there is nothing available.

Brighton Secondary College principal Richard Minack said he had made inquiries with government contacts about securing doses for his students, but was told there was “Buckley’s” chance.

Language and performance exams begin on October 4, while written exams for the most popular subjects start on October 27.

Mr Minack said the state government would need to launch a dedicated program for students if it was to have any chance of vaccinating them by then.

“I think the state government is going to be under the pump to get kids doing exams, and to get kids doing exams they are going to have to vaccinate them and that’s all going to have to happen by October, so I think it’s likely there will be a specific program for students doing unit 3 and 4 studies at least.”

Brighton Secondary College has also approached Ripponlea Medical, a clinic in Melbourne’s south-east that has just made arrangements with two nearby schools, Elwood College and St Leonard’s College, to give VCE students a dose of Pfizer on campus on September 9, when year 12 students are due to sit the General Achievement Test.

Ripponlea Medical practice manager Marcus Gwynne said the clinic had offered to vaccinate those two schools, but had reluctantly knocked back requests from others nearby.

“I’d love to do more than we are, but we are limited by how much vaccine we have got,” Mr Gwynne said.

Education Minister James Merlino announced the state government target to vaccinate VCE students in time for exams last Wednesday.

“We want as many students as possible, vaccinated, fully vaccinated, obviously … this is all our aim. We know that vaccination is our pathway out of this pandemic,” he said.

The Age asked an Andrews government spokesperson what specific measures they were pursuing to help VCE students book in for vaccinations. The spokesperson referred us to a statement by Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday.

“We’ll get year 11 and 12s vaccinated before exams, at least one dose,” he said.

“We’ll have more to say about how we’re going to get the vaccine administered to our most senior students. We have very successfully used priority lanes; and I think that will be a feature of the plan we announce and we’ll announce it quite soon.”

Meanwhile, senior students and teachers at Greater Shepparton Secondary College will have the opportunity to receive a dose of the Pfizer vaccine at two sessions at the Shepparton Showgrounds this week.

The program is being run by Goulburn Valley Health.

Shepparton is the site of the largest COVID-19 outbreak outside Melbourne, with about 100 active cases on Monday. Greater Shepparton Secondary College, which has about 2300 students at three campuses, has been forced into lockdown along with several other schools in the northern Victorian town.

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