opinion

All Year 12 boys at a private Sydney school were vaccinated. But our anger is misdirected.

It's been a heavy week in Australian COVID news; extended lockdowns, vaccine confusion, sports stars blatantly breaking the rules and now private school students getting access to vaccinations before a number of frontline workers. 

This was never going to go down well in a country that's already currently scraping the bottom of the morale barrel.

The Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday revealed that 163 Year 12 students at Sydney's prestigious St Joseph's College have managed to get their hands on a Pzifer vaccination, despite that program only being rolled out to people over 40.

First, a distraction: Characters who would own the pandemic. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

The HSC students at the prestigious independent high school were bussed to a vaccination centre at the end of last term for their first shot, and are due to have their second shot when school resumes.

The principal, Ross Tarlinton, approached the Sydney Local Health District in May to ask if the students could be vaccinated, "given that we have a large number of boys who live in a residential community, which includes boys from rural, remote and indigenous communities."

NSW Health has now confirmed that they intended for only First Nations students to get access to the jab. All Indigenous people between 16 and 19 are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine due to higher risks of contracting the virus and severity of symptoms.

They did not intend for the rest of the boarding cohort to also get access to the in-demand vaccine. And while we don't know how many in that group of boys fits the eligibility category, we do know it certainly isn't 163. 

You see, this is where things get tricky. There's outrage everywhere at this story. Fury even. 

Senior vice-president of the NSW Teacher's Federation, Amber Flohm told the ABC "It's obscene. Absolutely obscene. It highlights the inequality that exists across our society."

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Education expert Adam Voight furiously told The Project last night, "we have an education system in Australia that is defined by haves and have nots. I get that this school has a cohort of boarders, but there are kids like that all over the country. And the kids that are most affected by COVID... are the kids that have the least. They're not the kids at St Joeys."

It's hard to look past the school in this instance. St Joseph's is one of the most expensive boys' schools in the state. Apart from a few partial scholarships - for 'boys from the bush,' academia and Indigenous students - it's a school that can only be accessed by Australia's most wealthy families.

That stings. As Voight points out, there are plenty of kids worse off. More in need. More at risk. 

There are plenty of teachers worse off too, who are still not considered "essential" enough to be given vaccine priority despite being expected to turn up to classrooms throughout the pandemic.

But it's important that we channel our fury and our frustration towards the right people, because it was NSW Health that allowed this 'error' to occur.

St Joseph's asked the question. But NSW Health gave the okay.

"It was agreed that the Aboriginal students would be vaccinated through the state health system at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s vaccination hub," Local Health District chief executive Teresa Anderson told the ABC.

"Through an error, the wider group of boarders in Year 12, a total of 163 students, were also vaccinated.

"Sydney Local Health District apologises for this error."

But Australia's vaccination rollout has been full of errors. It's why only 11 per cent of our country - a country that was once leading the fight against COVID - have been vaccinated.

It's infuriating that things just keep going wrong, when entire industries - like the arts, like small business - desperately need them to go right. 

But it's infuriating too because, for many, it feels like privilege is playing a part. 

When we watch celebrities and politicians come and go from our country, while regular Aussies go months and years without being able see family, it's not hard to see why people are assuming this is about wealth being rewarded. 

When asked about how embarrassing the blunder was during Wednesday's press conference, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told the gathered media, "What I find embarrassing is that you'd make that sort of accusation against frontline health staff, who work their butts off....you know what, it was a mistake, so what. It's happened out of a million vaccinations - move on."

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But people aren't angry at the nurses who injected the vaccine on the day. We're frustrated with the system that allowed this to happen. 

At the end of the day, more than a hundred teenage boys received a vaccine that was supposed to be for other more vulnerable members of our society.

They are not to blame. 

This is just the latest blow in what has been, and continues to be, a bungled vaccine rollout. 

Feature image: AAP.

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