The Victorian government wants all 12th-year pupils to be vaccinated against the coronavirus before exams in October, but has not explained how this will be achieved.
Education Secretary James Merlino says the government has made it a “priority” to have all 12th-year students vaccinated before they begin exams on October 4 – less than six weeks away.
He said there would be “very strong communication” with students, staff and the wider community to make this happen.
The timing is tight, however, as the second Pfizer dose is currently administered up to six weeks after the first. The recommended interval between AstraZeneca doses is 12 weeks.
Mr. Merlino declined to say whether students would be able to receive their second dose of Pfizer in three weeks, or whether they would be given priority access to state vaccination centers.
“I’m not making any announcements today,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
“This is about sending a very strong message to Year 12 students, especially in their final months, to give them the confidence and clarity that they can really handle the last few months of study and do their best.” .”
Mr Merlino also said the state remains hopeful that children ages 12 and older could receive their first dose of a vaccine by the end of the year, subject to health advice.
It comes as Victoria registered 45 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases and the state government’s vaccination website crashed as thousands of young people tried to make a booking.
Of the latest cases, 36 are related to known outbreaks, the source of the remaining nine is under investigation, and 28 people were in the community while contagious.
The total number of active cases in the state is 538.
Health Minister Martin Foley said authorities still have “a lot of work to do” to bring the outbreak under control.
More than 830,000 bookings for vaccinations over the next four weeks opened from 7am on Wednesday for Victorians aged 16 to 39, including 450,000 Pfizer appointments for the first dose.
Within minutes of opening the bookings, the website collapsed due to high traffic.
Many people reported receiving a “500 Internal Server Error” after waiting in line for up to an hour to schedule an appointment. Others made it through the queue but were told they were ineligible for the Pfizer vaccine.
Naomi Bromley, the health department’s deputy secretary for responding to COVID-19, said the site received 50,000 hits per minute on Wednesday morning, while 1.3 million people had tried to call the coronavirus vaccination booking line.
She advocated being patient and kind with the staff, and more appointments will become available in the coming days.
Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said Victorians should be able to book with confidence.
“The state government has had months to rectify this and again we are seeing a crash on the booking site and we are seeing Victorians confused,” she told reporters.
She also attacked the government’s light-on-detail announcement for year 12 students.
“How is this going to be delivered to the tens of thousands of 12-year-old students? They’ve been through so much, they’ve been going through constant lockdowns,” said Ms Crozier.
It’s not just the state’s vaccine reservation system that is under pressure, with hundreds of employees being laid off for exposure to the coronavirus, the state is importing 350 doctors and nurses from abroad.
The medical professionals are expected to work in 30 health services in October.