The New South Wales health department says “an error” resulted in 163 year 12 students at one of Sydney’s most expensive private schools being given the Pfizer vaccine.
St Joseph’s College in Sydney’s lower north shore confirmed on Tuesday that more than 160 students received their first dose of the vaccine after the state’s health department approved the school’s request.
The school said it was given the go-ahead for the vaccines in May because its boarding school population included Indigenous students and students from remote and regional communities.
The senior students were due to have their second shot when school resumed.
Guardian Australia understands a private girls school, with a large number of boarders, has also been given access by NSW Health to the Pfizer vaccine, while most under-40s in Australia are ineligible.
The Sydney Local Health District, which is part of NSW Health, said an error had led to the entire year 12 cohort at St Joseph’s being vaccinated, instead of just the Aboriginal students.
“Sydney Local Health District was approached by St Joseph’s College in Hunters Hill in relation to the vaccination of Aboriginal students boarding at the school,” the chief executive, Dr Teresa Anderson, said.
“It was agreed that the Aboriginal students would be vaccinated through the state health system at Royal Prince Alfred hospital’s vaccination hub.
“Through an error, the wider group of boarders in year 12, a total of 163 students, were also vaccinated. Sydney Local Health District apologises for this error.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the St Joseph’s College principal, Ross Tarlinton, said: “The college approached Sydney Local Health District in May 2021 to inquire about the possibility of vaccinations for students, given that we have a large number of boys who live in a residential community, which includes boys from rural, remote and Indigenous communities.”
All Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people aged 16 and over are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.
“The approval and administration of the vaccine was endorsed and managed by NSW Health through the Sydney Local Health District,” Tarlinton said. “The college proceeded to make arrangements for the administration of the approved vaccine at a centre determined by NSW Health.”
NSW Health did not respond to questions about whether other boarding schools had received access to vaccines.
“Acknowledging that the college does not determine vaccination priority, it welcomed the opportunity to offer the vaccine for students given the approvals provided,” Tarlinton said.
“The college will continue to encourage and support members of its community to receive the appropriate vaccine as the opportunity arises. St Joseph’s College takes advice from NSW Health and follows public health orders regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Only people aged between 40 and 60 are officially eligible to receive the Pfizer shot in NSW as well as priority groups such as health workers.
All Aboriginal people aged 16 to 49 years of age are eligible for vaccination, according to the federal government eligibility criteria, as they have a higher risk of acquiring, and developing severe disease from, Covid.
St Joseph’s, which takes boarders from both the city and country areas, declined to say how many of its year 12 students were from the regions or how many were Indigenous, citing student privacy.
The chief executive of the Australian Boarding Schools Association, Richard Stokes, said that boarding schools were keen to get students vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Boarding schools involve living in close confines and can be seen to be similar to aged care facilities,” he said.
The King’s School in Parramatta confirmed that it had been in discussions with NSW Health about vaccinating its students but had not yet received approval.
A spokesperson for the King’s School said the school continued to work with the local area health service “to investigate options for vaccinating students”.
“King’s believes it is important for the wellbeing of all Australians that vaccination rates are expedited.”