The NSW Government said 40,000 jabs would be diverted from rural areas to vaccinate students in the eight local councils in west and southwestern Sydney.
The measure is designed to help fast track the return to school for students in the Canterbury-Bankstown, Fairfield, Liverpool, Blacktown, Cumberland, Parramatta, Campbelltown, and Georges River councils as final exams loom.
But residents outside Sydney were outraged to learn the decision would come at the cost of their pre-booked vaccinations, with NSW Health sending out a message on Friday advising them of the need to reschedule.
‘Pfizer vaccines are being redirected to assist in vaccinating Year 12 students in South Western and Western Sydney to help them return to face-to-face teaching,’ the message said.
The NSW government last week announced 40,000 Pfizer doses would be rerouted from regional areas to Year 12 students in Sydney’s eight LGAs of concern
‘We will initially cancel your current booking but will send you a priority booking code in the coming days to enable you to rebook at a later date.’
Many subsequently flocked to social media to vent their anger at students getting the jab while other members from high-risk groups were yet to be inoculated.
‘Sorry but Year 12 students taking Pfizer doses away from regional NSW?’ one woman tweeted.
‘My partner works in a hospital and can’t even get his Pfizer until September. What a joke.’
Another wrote: ‘So Sydney Year 12 students will get Pfizer now but the elderly in nursing homes and most essential workers still have not been given either shots yet? Is this for real?’
David, a 30-year-old Year 12 teacher from Western Sydney, said it was ridiculous students were being offered the jab while it was not being extended to their teachers.
‘I am not part of a current vaccination phase. I cannot book a Pfizer vaccination until October. This is ridiculous,’ he wrote.
‘If Pfizer is being prioritised for year 12 students, give it to teachers as well.’
NSW Health issued a message to regional residents on Friday (pictured) to advise their Pfizer appointments had been cancelled
Premier Gladys Berejiklian defended the decision during Sunday’s press conference, and confirmed doses were rerouted from the Hunter region.
She argued it would not pose a risk to regional areas and vaccination was an important a tool in their battle against the highly infectious Delta strain within red zones.
‘When you consider there are eight million people in NSW, and we have been able to stop the spread of the virus in our regions and other parts of Sydney,’ she said.
‘It is important for us to give those Year 12 students a chance to finish their exams and get rewarded.
‘We know that we are finding younger people are getting the virus and spreading it. It is important particularly for younger people, people up to the 30s in particular, to get access to the vaccine as soon as possible.’
Two western NSW health districts – serving communities including Orange, Broken Hill, and Bourke – also confirmed those waiting for their first dose of Pfizer would have their bookings delayed for weeks.
Ms Berejiklian defended the decision on Sunday, arguing the vaccinations were vital to combatting the highly infectious Delta outbreak in Sydney
Sonya Thornberry said Orange, Blayney and Cabonne recently endured, and complied with, a hard lockdown to prevent Covid-19 transmission.
‘Yet, the city has not endured a hard lockdown, nor complied with the lockdown rules, and regional NSW is expected to forfeit their right to a vaccine therapy to subsidise the city’s population – unfair to say the least,’ she posted on Facebook.
Murray MP Helen Dalton also derided the decision.
‘It is absolutely outrageous that the most Indigenous district in NSW is having to suspend their bookings so that vaccines can be sent to Sydney,’ the Shooters Fishers and Farmers member said.
‘Far West NSW have the worst health outcomes in the state. That’s because the NSW Government continue to treat them like second class citizens.’
NSW Health issued a statement on Saturday apologising for the inconvenience and thanking people for their patience.
‘As part of its pandemic response, NSW Health is taking this important temporary measure to also give us the best chance of containing the current outbreak in Greater Sydney as quickly as possible,’ it said.
‘As a result, people in other regions could receive a notice advising their first dose of Pfizer will be rescheduled.
‘Anyone who has had their first dose already or those in priority groups 1a or 1b will not have their bookings rescheduled.’
Angry regional residents flocked to social media to express their outrage that Covid vaccines were being prioritised for Sydney students. Pictured: People queue at a vaccine centre at Sydney Olympic Park
Teachers urged the premier to reconsider plans to allow Year 12 students to return to face-to-face learning in August, despite a mass vaccination plan for students in hotspot areas.
NSW set August 16 as the date for a return to the classroom for students completing their final year of high school.
Asked about reports children were terrified to return to school, Ms Berejiklian stressed that health authorities were ‘not seeing a huge spread of the virus outside of those eight LGAs’ and Covid-safety measures would be adopted in classrooms.
NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said he was ‘deeply concerned’ by the safety risk posed by Covid-19 to students and teachers.
But Ms Berejiklian said ‘there is nothing stopping teachers getting vaccinated now’.
‘Obviously, if you are a teacher or critical worker or any citizen, it doesn’t matter what you are doing. If you are interacting with any one at all you should be coming forward to getting the vaccine,’ she said.
‘We’re calling on anybody over 18 years of age to come forward and get vaccinated. The AstraZeneca is available.’
Ms Berejiklian outlined plans on Friday for a stadium in Sydney’s west to be converted to rapidly vaccinate 20,000 Year 12 students in five days from August 9.
The Olympic Park stadium usually hosts musicians and sporting events.
There were 239 new locally acquired cases of Covid on Sunday, with at least 61 infectious in the community. Pictured: Police patrol Victoria Park in Sydney
But Mr Gavrielatos asked the premier to ‘reconsider her decision to allow Year 12 to return to face-to-face teaching with such a high number of infectious cases in the community’.
Students last year began returning to the classroom when there were only five locally transmitted cases and the health and safety of teachers and students should remain paramount, he said.
A total of 239 new locally acquired cases were recorded in NSW on Sunday, with at least 61 infectious while in the community.
Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said her department was working closely with NSW Health to ensure the return of HSC classes and the subsequent exams happened in a Covid-safe way.
‘I find it disappointing that organisations, who should put the interests of students first, are effectively lobbying for the HSC cohort in Sydney to stay at home and miss out on the opportunity for face-to-face learning,’ she said.
‘Particularly when health experts have advised that students are able to return with the measures we will have in place.’