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Article on ‘forced’ Australian student vaccinations fails on facts

2021-09-01 10:42:54

The Statement

An online report and social media posts claim thousands of Australian school children were “seized” and forcibly vaccinated against COVID-19.

An article on the US-based National File website, which has previously shared various debunked claims about COVID-19 and other topics, claims the Australian government would “seize 24,000 children from it’s (sic) citizens and place them in a stadium quarantine camp to be forcibly vaccinated”.

“This is not embellishment, nor is it an exaggeration. This is actually happening,” the website’s subheading states.

At the time of writing, the articles had been shared more than 2,200 times on Facebook, including in countries such as the US, Romania, Canada and Malta.

A Facebook post sharing the National File article
 An article shared on Facebook claims Australian students were forcibly vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The Analysis

The student vaccination program – run by the New South Wales state government not federal authorities as suggested – did not involve children being “seized” and forcibly injected.

Rather, a group of 24,000 students from parts of Sydney most affected by COVID-19 were invited to book vaccinations online with only around two-thirds taking up the offer.

The NSW government announced that between August 9 and 14 it would be running a vaccination program for students in any of eight “local government areas of concern” in western and southwestern Sydney.

The announcement noted that only students aged 16 and over who were sitting their final-year exams or finishing school would be eligible, with students told they could make bookings online. The system was reportedly hit with technical glitches that prevented many students from selecting appointments. Only those who had made a booking were able to receive vaccinations.

Despite the article’s claim that 24,000 children were “seized” in the program, this figure relates only to the number of eligible students who could make a booking. Of this cohort, only 15,390 attended the Qudos Bank Arena to receive their first dose, according to an emailed media release from Western Sydney Local Health District.

COVID-19 vaccinations are voluntary for all age groups in Australia. However, workers in several industries – such as aged care or health – are required to be vaccinated in NSW. The list of groups for which vaccination is required does not include school students.

In a press conference discussing the program, NSW leaders made clear the vaccinations for students were voluntary with no suggestion of “forced” or mandatory administration.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on August 6 that students from the affected areas would “be invited to get the Pfizer jab” (video mark 3min 16sec).

“We do encourage all students to make sure they come forward for that opportunity, because obviously by the time everybody sits for the HSC exam, which is a requirement, we want every student from those eight local government areas to have been offered the vaccine and to have taken the vaccine,” she said. (video mark 3min 30sec)

Australia’s medical regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration has provisionally approved four COVID-19 vaccines, however Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for use under 18 years of age.

At the same press conference, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said students had been given an “opportunity” to get vaccinated, but they needed to “take it, grasp it with both hands”. (video mark 12min 40sec)

Under Australian common law, which applies in NSW, children aged between 14 to 18 may legally consent to most types of medical treatment without parental consent if they are deemed competent to do so (page 110).

AAP FactCheck has previously debunked false claims about the school vaccination program, including the baseless suggestion that at least two children had died after receiving COVID-19 vaccines.

A video of a young child being pulled away from a man by police officers has also been attached to false claims of children being forcibly removed from their parents in Australia after testing positive for COVID-19. That claim has been debunked here.

Year 12 HSC students queue to get their Pfizer vaccinations in Sydney
 Year 12 students queue to get their Pfizer vaccinations at Qudos Arena in Sydney on August 9. 

The Verdict

Australian students were not seized and forcibly given COVID-19 vaccines as part of a mass-vaccination drive in Sydney. In fact, 24,000 students were eligible to make bookings under the voluntary program but only around two-thirds took up the offer. Vaccinations were not mandatory for the cohort.

False – Content that has no basis in fact.

Updated September 1, 2021 10:30 AEDT: Adds paragraphs detailing previous fact check on video of child being separated from parent.

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