New South Wales residents aged under 40 have been able to book their coronavirus vaccinations despite not being officially eligible yet, with some having already received their jabs.
On 17 May, people aged 40 to 49 joined other eligible categories invited to in NSW. When vaccination appointments become available, those eligible receive a link to the NSW Health online booking system - links that now appear to have been widely distributed.
After receiving the links, younger people in the state have since been able to book time slots for their first and second jabs despite declaring they are aged under 40 and not frontline workers.
Emily (not her real name), who is 37, was sent a QR code that linked to a NSW Health form via a friend on WhatsApp last week.
Despite entering her correct date of birth and declaring she was not a healthcare or frontline worker - and instead, a general member of the public - she was able to book an appointment to get her first shot in July at a clinic in Sydney.
She also booked her second shot for some weeks later.
“It allowed me to book. I followed the rules, I didn't lie,” she told SBS News.
A queue at a COVID-19 vaccination hub in Sydney earlier this month. Source: AAP
Emily, who is originally from the UK, said she feels no guilt about making the appointment early because some older Australians are being hesitant and have still not booked their vaccinations.
“At work, I’ve had clients in the older generation say to me, ‘I’m waiting at least six months to see what happens to people first’. The younger generation, particularly us ex-pats, we all want to get the vaccine as soon as possible and get the borders open.”
Sydney woman Sally (not her real name) is 30 and was able to get her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at a hospital on Monday after booking online using a link she received on Twitter.
She was concerned she was jumping the queue and taking the spot of someone vulnerable but felt that if there were appointments available and the system allowed her to book knowing her date of birth, she was doing nothing wrong.
"I definitely did think perhaps I shouldn't have been let through into the system, but having identified myself and given all of my personal information, including my Medicare card, I assumed the system was working correctly and I was registered as appropriate," she told SBS News.
She even called NSW Health to better understand the booking system and verify that her appointment was legitimate.
"I gave them all my information and I identified that I wasn't a healthcare worker or in any other priority category, and they didn't ask me to cancel my appointment," she said.
A NSW Health spokesperson told SBS News they were unsure how people got hold of the booking links because they are not supposed to be in public circulation.
Even if someone ineligible for a vaccine is able to book online, they should also be checked for eligibility on arrival at the clinic, the department said in a statement.
“Everyone who attends any NSW Health COVID-19 vaccination centre is assessed for eligibility in person on the day of the booking by a qualified health professional and undergoes a robust process of identification.”
But Sally said no one at the clinic she attended questioned her eligibility.
"They had all of my details and I wasn't refused a dose. It was all very fast and efficient," she said.
COVID-19 vaccinations became available to NSW residents over 40 on 17 May. Source: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD POOL
NSW Health said the state’s vaccine rollout works at its best when everyone waits their turn.
“The vaccination rollout, like the public health response to the pandemic so far, requires the support of the public to ensure it is successful and that the most vulnerable members of our community are vaccinated first, in line with the priority groups set out by the federal government,” it said a statement.
Priority groups for vaccinations include vulnerable members of society as well as those in high-risk occupations or those involved in the supply and distribution of essential goods and services.
But despite the rules, the NSW Health spokesperson said those under 40 who are jumping the queue won’t take vaccines away from those who are more vulnerable. There are enough appointments for everyone who requires them, they said.
“An eligible person would be vaccinated anyway,” they told SBS News. “People who need to get vaccinated are getting vaccinated."
A spokesperson for Sydney Local Health District, which manages a mass vaccination hub at Sydney Olympic Park, said their system relies on people’s honesty.
“If people use the eligibility checker, they must complete a declaration online that says they fit one of the eligible categories before they can proceed to making a booking."
"If they are wrongly bypassing the checker by using links being shared on social media, they are asked by our staff to complete a declaration form when they arrive.”
There have been growing calls to officially open up Australia’s vaccination program to younger people - and it may not be too far away.
An unconfirmed report in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday claimed a major advertising campaign will be launched in July to encourage people aged under 40 to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
A petition on change.org called “VACCINATE ME! Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z want the vaccine now”, is currently urging the federal government to open up vaccine hubs now to anyone who wants a jab.
It has so far received more than 1,600 signatures.
There have been previous media reports of mass vaccine hubs in Melbourne sitting largely empty, though the current COVID-19 outbreak there has brought Victorians through the doors in record numbers.
Research has shown older people in Australia are the most reluctant to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said encouraging those aged over 50 to get vaccinated will be a priority in the coming weeks.
According to the federal government's weekly updates, 4.2 million vaccinations have been delivered across Australia since 22 February. That equates to around 10 per cent of the 40 million doses needed to vaccinate all Australian adults with two shots.
Sally believes it is the responsibility of all Australians to get vaccinated as soon as possible, regardless of their age.
"While there is well-reported vaccine hesitancy in the broader community, it is everyone's responsibility to attempt to get the vaccine as early as they can," she said.
"For me, getting the vaccine today felt like the most responsible thing to do. I would rather be proactive."
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