Grade 12 students at one of Sydney’s most expensive private schools were given access to the Pfizer vaccine by NSW Health on the grounds that the cohort, who are mostly boarders, includes vulnerable students from indigenous and remote communities.
St Joseph’s College in Sydney’s Lower North Shore confirmed 160 students received their first dose of the vaccine after NSW Health approved the school’s request.
The final year students should have their second shot when returning to school.
Guardian Australia understands that a private girls’ school, with a large number of boarders, has also had access by NSW Health to vaccines, while most under-40s in Australia are not eligible.
In a statement, the principal of St Joseph’s College, Ross Tarlinton, said: “The college approached the Sydney local health district in May 2021 to inquire about the possibility of vaccines for students, as we have a large number of boys who live in a residential community, which includes boys from rural, remote and Indigenous communities.
All Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders aged 16 and over are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.
“The approval and administration of the vaccine has been approved and managed by NSW Health through the Sydney Local Health District,” Tarlinton said.
“The college has made arrangements for the approved vaccine to be administered at a center determined by NSW Health.
“Recognizing that the college does not determine the priority of vaccination, he welcomed the opportunity to offer the vaccine to students given the approvals provided and for the reasons listed above.
“The college will continue to encourage and support members of its community to receive the appropriate vaccine as soon as the opportunity presents itself. St Joseph’s College is taking advice from NSW Health and following public health orders regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The safety of our school and our local community remains a key priority in all decision-making at the college. “
Only people aged 40 to 60 are officially eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine in NSW, as well as priority groups such as health workers.
About 150 of the school’s 200 grade 12 students are boarders.
St Joseph’s, which welcomes residents from the city and the countryside, declined to say how many of its 12th grade students were from the regions or how many were indigenous, citing student confidentiality.
Australian Boarding Schools Association chief executive Richard Stokes said boarding schools were keen to get students vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Boarding schools involve living in enclosed spaces and can be seen as similar to senior care facilities,” he said.
The King’s School in Parramatta has confirmed that it is in talks with NSW Health about vaccinating its students but has yet to receive approval.
A spokesperson for King’s School said that “the school has continued to work with the local health department to explore student immunization options. King’s believes that it is important for the well-being of all Australians that vaccination rates are accelerated.
Guardian Australia has requested comment from NSW Minister of Health Brad Hazzard.