More than a million Australians aged from 16-18 will be able to join the queue for COVID vaccines from the end of this month.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said cabinet had agreed to add the crucial group to the national vaccine program from August 30.
“I want to stress, do not make a booking yet. We will advise when bookings can be made. It isn’t today,” he said on Thursday.
The announcement came as Australia’s rollout hit a major milestone, with more than half of people aged over 16 having had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the latest vaccination data, 50.2 per cent of eligible people have had at least a first dose, while 28.2 per cent are fully vaccinated.
A record 309,010 vaccines were administered on Wednesday.
The change to include teenagers will come as part of a wider move opening supply of the Pfizer vaccine to everyone aged 16-39 Australia-wide from the end of August. It includes about 1.2 million people aged 16-18.
“We decided to go all the way through the 16-year-olds to 39-year-olds, [there are] some 8.6 million Australians in the group,” Mr Morrison said.
Children aged 16 and older are already eligible for Pfizer if they are part of a priority group.
In addition, those aged 16 to 39 living in 12 Sydney virus hot spots were on Thursday given priority access to 530,000 Pfizer doses.
Mr Morrison said the government was awaiting further advice from ATAGI before widening vaccines to children aged 12-15. Indigenous children in that age group and those with underlying health conditions and compromised immune systems are already eligible for COVID shots
“One of the best ways to protect your children is to get vaccinated yourself. That was one of the clear pieces of advice coming out of the Doherty Institute modelling,” Mr Morrison said
The decision comes amid growing concern about the impact of the Delta strain of the virus on younger people.
In Canberra, where an outbreak rose to 83 cases on Thursday, children make up 43 per cent of cases, while 46 per cent are in people aged 18 to 44.
Six schools and two early childhood centres are among the city’s exposure sites, with the ACT recording 16 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday.
Eleven of Thursday’s new cases are linked to existing infections, and nine of the total 83 cases found over the past week remain under investigation.
Victoria has also noted a concerning rise in COVID cases in younger people in its current outbreak.
There have been clusters at several schools and playgrounds have been shut across Melbourne this week amid fears the virus has been spread at some. There are at least two playgrounds listed among Melbourne’s more than 500 COVID exposure sites.
In NSW, where cases spiked to a record 681 on Thursday, many infections are also among younger people.
Deputy chief health officer Dr Marianne Gale said many were essential workers, who were passing it on to household contacts.
“Those people that provide essential services, who work in aged care, work in disability, who work in healthcare settings, who work in factories, work in shopping centres. And so, transmission is happening between workplaces and households,” she said.
“For the vast majority of people, it’s not anybody doing the wrong thing. It’s what we are seeing with the Delta variant that is so highly transmissible.”