UK-based Australian families planning trips home for Christmas will be made to quarantine because of a federal government decision on vaccines for children.
The Australian and UK governments currently have different requirements on the vaccination of children aged 12 to 15. While Australia requires two doses, the UK allows for only one in the vast majority of cases.
That has significant implications for the newly announced vaccine-contingent travel restrictions, which allow returning Australians, including children aged 12 and above, to skip hotel quarantine if they are fully vaccinated.
Qantas has also stated that passengers aged 12 or over “will be required to be fully vaccinated with a TGA-approved or recognised vaccine”. Only limited services are expected to be available for unvaccinated travellers.
The news come as Australia moves to reopen its borders to international travellers.
On Friday, the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, confirmed the move shortly after the prime minister, Scott Morrison, flagged that Australia would soon ease travel restrictions with Singapore and Qantas announced it would bring forward the resumption of international flights.
George Nicholas, who is currently living with his family in the market town of Beaconsfield, outside London, says his two kids, aged 12 and 14, only have one dose each, in line with the UK advice.
“The issue now is that us double-vaxxed parents no longer need to quarantine when we come back to Australia but our 12- and 14-year-olds don’t currently qualify for that exemption because they’re not ‘fully vaccinated’,” he told the Guardian.
“The problem is [that in line with] the current policy they will never be able to come back to Australia without quarantine until they’re 16.”
A number of Facebook users have aired similar concerns on the Australian high commission’s page.
“Can you please confirm if my 12-year-old son who is an Australian citizen as I am, but has only had one jab as that is all that is available in the UK, will be able to travel?” one wrote.
The health department said its position was based on medical advice from the Therapeutic Goods Administration that children aged 12 and over should be vaccinated in the same way as adults.
“That’s why Australia’s definition requires them to be fully vaccinated in line with the requirements of the approved and recognised vaccines,” a spokesperson told the Guardian.
“Travellers aged 13-18 who have only received one dose of a TGA-recognised or approved vaccine may still be able to travel, but only under the rules of unvaccinated travel.”
Children under the age of 12 do not need to be vaccinated to return without quarantine.
The federal government has recently moved to plug other gaps in its recognition of vaccines.
Initially, the Australian Immunisation Register was unable to recognise people who had mixed doses as fully vaccinated. That issue has since been resolved.
The government has also moved to recognise two vaccines commonly used abroad, Sinovac and Covishield, and is planning to add them to the register so that recipients can obtain a digital vaccination certificate.
The government is also now recognising doses of Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Moderna and Johnson & Johnson if they were administered outside Australia “on or after 1 October 2020”.
But it is yet to recognise two other commonly used vaccines, Sinopharm and Covaxin, which are used widely in China and India respectively.