Scott Morrison rebukes George Christensen for ‘dangerous messages’ on vaccinating children

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Prime minister, who has denied it’s hypocritical to deport Novak Djokovic while government MPs spread misinformation, says Covid vaccinations ‘save lives’

Scott Morrison has urged parents to ignore the “dangerous messages” of government MP George Christensen who suggested children should not get vaccinated against Covid.

The prime minister on Tuesday rebuked the controversial Nationals MP and called on parents to instead listen to the “world’s best regulators”.

Morrison has been under pressure to rein in Coalition MPs who consistently undermine the government’s health advice after Novak Djokovic was deported partly because his presence could “foster anti-vaccination sentiment”.

“I strongly disagree with the message sent out by Mr Christensen regarding children’s vaccinations,” Morrison said in a statement. “It is contrary to the official professional medical advice provided to the government and I urge parents to disregard his dangerous messages in relation to vaccines.”

Related: Imagine if Australia applied its new no-dickhead policy on Novak Djokovic to government troublemakers | Sarah Martin

Morrison said vaccinations were the country’s “primary weapon” against the Covid-19 virus. He noted more than 90% of Australians aged over 16 were now fully vaccinated.

“If you are not vaccinated against the virus you are more likely to experience severe illness and die. Getting vaccinated saves lives,” he said.

“This includes five to 11-year-olds who are provided with a special children’s vaccine that has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. These are the same medical experts who approve all other vaccines for children in Australia. They are the world’s best medical regulators.

“These are the experts that have the knowledge, accountability and experience to provide the credible and reliable advice that parents need to make important decisions about their child’s best interests.”

Australia’s chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, also urged parents to “listen to the experts” in the wake of Christensen’s remarks, while the health minister, Greg Hunt, said he “plainly” disagreed with the Queenslander.

“Get your children vaccinated, please bring your children forward,” Hunt said on Tuesday. “Vaccinations save lives. I would flatly, plainly disagree with anyone who said that.”

Kelly said people should take the advice of commonwealth and state chief medical officers and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi), which was among “the best experts on immunisation in the world”.

“We are of one voice – it is very important for children, now down to the age of five, to be vaccinated, and so please go ahead with that, and listen to the experts,” the chief medical officer said.

In an attempt to promote his podcast, Christensen flagged he would “break the internet” with his call not to vaccinate children.

On his Facebook page, Christensen said the podcast episode was “too hot” and would be censored by the tech giant. “I can’t even show you the title but I can tell you every parent should listen to it,” he said.

The “Do NOT Vax Your Children” episode features an interview with Dr Robert Malone who claims to have invented mRNA technology but has reportedly been banned from Twitter for violations of its Covid-19 misinformation policy.

Christensen, and several other Coalition MPs, have become vocal critics of the government’s vaccination program – campaigning against mandates and raising concerns about adverse events.

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Hunt, who like Morrison has this week rejected suggestions of a double standard over the treatment of Djokovic, said on Tuesday the government was “pro-vaccination”.

“Wherever people have said things that are anti-vax, we disagree with them, whether that is people in our own movement, I disagree,” Hunt said.

“Frankly, the anti-vaxxers aren’t just losing the debate, they’ve lost the debate. We’re at a 95% national 16-plus vaccination ... and it’s the Australian public, the Australian medical workforce, in partnership with local, state, territory and federal governments that have achieved that. So we’ll just keep going and we want that number to go higher.”

According to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, evidence from clinical trials and real-world experience from overseas indicates that side-effects most commonly seen in the five to 11 age group were “mild and temporary”, similar to the safety profile in older populations.

In clinical trials of over 2,000 children, most side-effects were reported in the first two to three days after vaccination, with the most common being a sore arm (70% of children), headache (25%) and tiredness (25%).

Related: Private hospital staff diverted to public system as Omicron wave results in Australia’s deadliest Covid day

In the US, where 8.7m doses have been administered to children in this age bracket, reports of more serious effects following vaccination were “extremely rare” with 100 reports from the 8.7m vaccine doses.

Myocarditis – which is an inflammation of the heart – was also very rare in this age group with 11 mild cases from more than 8m doses.

Kelly said the real-world experience gave Australian authorities additional assurance about the safety of the vaccine for children.

“We have the advantage of watching multiple millions of children of that age group of five to 11 with the first and the second doses in the US [and] they have not seen a single issue in terms of severe safety signals,” he said.

“We were looking very closely at that and so that’s a real reassurance that real-world experience, plus the TGA tick and Atagi in terms of safety and efficacy. [Vaccines] do work … particularly against severe disease in children the same as they do in adults.”

More than 379,000 child vaccines have now been administered in Australia with Hunt saying that this number was expected to top 500,000 in the coming days.

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