The ongoing threat of coronavirus (COVID-19) has brought with it fear and uncertainty. Many parents are wondering what to do about routine childhood vaccinations during the pandemic, why children aren’t receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and how to keep their families safe. We're here to provide answers to your most common questions.


1. When will the coronavirus vaccine be available?


In Australia, the coronavirus vaccine rollout began in late February 2021. The first doses are intended for health frontline workers, border workers and vulnerable groups such as residents of aged care facilities. These vaccinations will be rolled out progressively with federal government currently estimating that everyone over the age of 18 will be offered a safe, effective and free coronavirus vaccine by October 2021. 

For more information out the vaccine rollout in Australia, and when you’re likely to get your vaccine visit the Australian Government Department of Health

Around the world, vaccines must be approved by each country before they are rolled out. Those supplied by the COVAX Facility will also be approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The vaccines that will be used in Australia have been approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) which is part of the Australian Government Department of Health, and is responsible for regulating therapeutic goods. 
 
Senerita, 9, receives a measles vaccination as part of a UNICEF-supported National Vaccination Campaign © UNICEF/UNI232405/Stephen


2. Why can't children get the coronavirus vaccine? 


Coronavirus vaccines are not yet available for children because whilst testing for safety and efficacy on children is underway, it has not yet been completed. New vaccines often take years to get to children because all vaccines are tested first in adults. This is because adults can provide informed consent and give more information about any reactions than would be possible for children.  

Whilst for most infectious diseases, young people are the most vulnerable and the top priority for protection, the good news is that this is not the case for COVID-19. Children have a lower infection rate than adults and only vary rarely experience the severely symptoms which have older adults and those with pre-existing conditions admitted to hospital.  


3. Should my child still get routine vaccines during the coronavirus pandemic?


100 per cent yes! While COVID-19 has changed some aspects of our lives,  it is still very important that children and babies keep their vaccinations up to date. Not only do these vaccines protect from debilitating and life-threatening diseases but fully vaccinated children can safely resume interacting with other children, at school or social engagement, once COVID-19 restrictions allow.  

If you are unsure of whether or not your immunisation service is still running as usual, please check with your health care provider. Because the COVID-19 situation is changing every day, you might find your health care providers will be adjusting their way of providing care as things change. If you cannot get to a clinic when your child’s next vaccinations are due, make a note somewhere to try again as soon as the services resume. 
 
Enrolled mid-wife, Antim, gives Vitamin A drops to a child at an immunisation shelter. © UNICEF/UNI325831/Abdul

4. How do vaccines work?


Vaccines help train our immune system to fight infections by introducing an inactivated form of a germ (bacteria or virus) into the body. Since it is inactivated, it cannot make us sick. However, it triggers our body’s immune system to produce defences called antibodies. Then, if you ever catch the germ, your body’s immune system will already know how to fight it. 

 

5. Where can I find the latest guidance on vaccinations?


Contact your health care provider, consult your local and national health authority websites and follow guidance provided by WHO and UNICEF. 

 

6. How can I protect myself and others from COVID-19?


Some of the precautions you and your family can take to help avoid infection include:
 
  • Washing your hands frequently using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • If you sneeze or cough, cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or a tissue. Dispose of used tissue immediately.
  • Avoid crowded places and close contact with people. Keep a safe distance from anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms.
  • Avoid shaking hands, hugging or kissing people.
  • Avoid sharing food, utensils, cups and towels.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched a lot, including phones, doorknobs, light switches, remote controls and countertops.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with a slight fever and cough.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing or taking care of someone who is suspected to have COVID-19. Health care workers should wear medical masks.
Still today, there are no effective treatments for COVID-19 once a person is infected. Prevention remains the best cure. Even those who are vaccinated should follow hygiene and social distancing measures to keep themselves and their family safe. 

Josh, 3, awaits a measles vaccination as part of a UNICEF-supported National Vaccination Campaign. © UNICEF/UNI232331/Stephen


7. I have a newborn to one-year-old. How can I protect my baby from COVID-19?


In addition to all of the advice already given to parents about hand washing, physical distancing and maintaining hygiene practices, they should take extra care to protect infants from infection. Breastfeed your baby if possible. There is currently no proven research that breastmilk can transmit the virus, but you should take the usual hygiene and respiratory protection (while breastfeeding as well as at other times) to avoid respiratory transmission. Use antibacterial wipes if available to wipe down countertops and diaper-changing surfaces once a day. 

Try to ensure young children have the same caregivers to reduce the number of people they come into contact with. Those caregivers should be encouraged to wash their hands regularly, avoid sharing things that go in mouths such as cups and stay away if they feel at all sick. 
 

8. What should I do if my child is showing symptoms of COVID-19? Is it safe to take them to the doctor?


If your child has a sore throat, a cough or a fever, call your doctor or health service for advice before bringing them in for a COVID-19 test. If your child has more serious symptoms, like shortness of breath or seems unusually sick, call the emergency number. 

Most children with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or may have no symptoms at all. But it’s important to protect the elderly and others more vulnerable to serious infections. So keep your child at home if you think they have been exposed to COVID-19 or have it, but make sure to call their doctor or a health worker for advice. 
 

9. Should I get my child tested for coronavirus? 


You don’t need to have your child tested if he or she is healthy and not showing any symptoms (such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing). Do also make sure to take all key steps to protect your family against COVID-19.  

Coronavirus vaccines will get us one step closer to ending the pandemic, but testing and tracing the virus will also be critical to keep children, families and communities safe. If you’re in doubt, always call your doctor and take your child for a COVID-19 swab test. 

 
A health worker prepares a syringe to vaccinate children against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) © UNICEF/UN0292643/Holt


See our COVID-19 resources for more advice, tips and activities to support you and your family through the coronavirus pandemic, from UNICEF experts in health, early childhood development, education, and child protection.

Quick FAQs about COVID-19

What is a 'novel' coronavirus?
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A novel coronavirus (CoV) is a new strain of coronavirus. The disease caused by the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China, has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) – ‘CO’ stands for corona, ‘VI’ for virus, and ‘D’ for disease.

Formerly, this disease was referred to as ‘2019 novel coronavirus’ or ‘2019-nCoV.’ The COVID-19 virus is a new virus linked to the same family of viruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and some types of common cold.
How does the COVID-19 virus spread?
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The virus is transmitted through direct contact with respiratory droplets of an infected person (generated through coughing and sneezing), and touching surfaces contaminated with the virus. The COVID-19 virus may survive on surfaces for several hours, but simple disinfectants can kill it.
What are the symptoms of novel coronavirus?
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Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia or breathing difficulties. More rarely, the disease can be fatal. 

These symptoms are similar to the flu (influenza) or the common cold, which are a lot more common than COVID-19. This is why testing is required to confirm if someone has COVID-19.

It’s important to remember that key prevention measures are the same – frequent hand washing, and respiratory hygiene (cover your cough or sneeze with a flexed elbow or tissue, then throw away the tissue into a closed bin). Also, there is a vaccine for the flu – so remember to keep yourself and your child up to date with vaccinations. 
 
​How can I avoid the risk of infection?
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Here are four precautions you and your family can take to avoid infection:

1. Wash your hands frequently using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub 
2. Cover your mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue, when coughing or sneezing, and throw away the tissue into a closed bin
3. Avoid close contact with anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms
4. Go to the doctor if you have a fever, cough or feel that it is difficult to breathe

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