When can I come back to school? Do I need to get vaccinated first? And which Covid vaccine is the best? These are some of the questions that Glenroy College students asked local MP Peter Khalil during a special forum on Friday last week.

The students grilled the Federal Labor MP for Wills about Covid during a live video chat on 8 October. More than 80 students joined teachers and Glenroy College families to hear Mr Khalil give an update on Covid.

The follow-up forum was organised after students asked for more time to talk to Mr Khalil when he addressed the school community about Covid-19 shortly before the term break.

Vaccinate now

Mr Khalil praised students, College staff and parents for their resilience during “challenging times” and urged them to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Mr Khalil received his first vaccination against Covid back in May.

Labor Mp Peter Khalil gets vaccinated against Covid. Image via Twitter.

Mr Khalil said the vaccination rate in the northern suburbs had improved in recent weeks. Areas including Glenroy, Fawkner, Coolaroo and Broadmeadows had been flagged as suburbs “of concern” because of high Covid infection rates and low vaccination uptake.

“People are getting vaccinated, which is great to see,” Mr Khalil said. “They are not only protecting themselves, they are protecting their family, their parents, their grandparents, their broader extended family, their friends who might be vulnerable. They’re protecting their community and they’re protecting the broader society.”

The new normal

Mr Khalil told students a “new normal” was coming when enough people had received the vaccination, including fewer restrictions and lockdowns.

“We are going to go into a new normal. It’s not going to be the same as it was before the pandemic, but we are going to go into a new normal. The governments will be removing lockdowns, travel will start again and so on.”

Your Covid questions answered

Here are some of the questions that students asked Mr Khalil and Glenroy College Junior School leader Andrew Lewis during the forum.

When do we go back to school?

Mr Lewis: “All students will be back on site at some stage in Week Four (from October 25). There’s going to be a staggered return to school. Coming back to school, there’s going to be some changes in regular arrangements so we will be in touch with all students in coming weeks. Until then, it will be remote learning unless you are a Year 12/ VCAL student who is on-site.”

What will happen with unvaccinated people?

Mr Khalil: “It’s going to be a pretty grim situation because they’re going to be exposed to the virus. We can’t suppress, even with lockdowns, the spread of the virus. There were 1800 cases just today. It is going to continue to spread throughout the community, amongst the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. The difference being is that the unvaccinated will be exposed to higher risk of serious illness and also hospitalisation and, potentially, death.”

Will students be able to attend school if they are unvaccinated?

Mr Lewis: “You are very welcome at school regardless of your vaccination status. It’s strongly encouraged that students above 12 years (of age) go and speak to their GP about getting the vaccine, but it’s not going to be mandated. At this point there will be no segregation of students who are or are not vaccinated. We’re going to be taking quite a strong stance when students do return to school in terms of safety. So students will still be wearing masks for quite some time and we’re putting in some extra Covid supports.”

When do you think the lockdown will end completely?

Mr Khalil said the State Government has set an 80 per cent double-dose vaccination rate for people over 16 as the target for ending the current Melbourne lockdown. He said beyond this, it’s up to individual State governments to decide whether to use lockdowns as a tool to manage future outbreaks. But he said the considers it unlikely authorities will keep using mass lockdowns because a high vaccination rate means “you don’t need lockdowns”. He said smaller, localised lockdowns to target outbreaks in a particular suburb are more likely in the future.

“Lockdowns don’t really work to prevent the spread of the virus in that context. Melbourne in particular, Victoria in particular, has used lockdowns more than any other place in the world. And we are getting to a point of fatigue and tiredness and that means non-compliance. People stop following the rules after a certain while and start cutting corners,” Mr Khalil told students.

Is Covid-19 harmful to kids like us?

Mr Khalil: “The risks are lower if you’re younger and healthier, but that doesn’t preclude that there are still some people who react badly to the virus and it can be much more serious.” Some young people had Covid without showing any symptoms, others were only mildly ill with symptoms like a cold, while others were so sick they needed hospital care, he added.

“If you get Covid, or you’ve had Covid, you can still get the vaccine after that. It protects you even further from catching it again and getting a serious illness. And you probably need to do that because the virus keeps mutating.”

Will there be a law like the ‘no jab, no play’ law?

Mr Khalil: “That’s a really good question. This is something that both at a national level and a state level, there is a lot of debate around. The Federal Government has not legislated anything in this respect. There is an ethical and a legal question around this. I would prefer to see a stronger national standard because I am a Federal member of Parliament, but that is not happening.”

The State Government has announced mandatory vaccinations for occupations including teachers and health care workers, and some private companies have announced their employees must be vaccinated, but there is no legal requirement for students to be vaccinated.

Which vaccine is the best?

Mr Khalil said both AstraZeneca, which is recommended for people over 60, and Pfizer, which is recommended for people aged over 12, are proven to be effective in stopping the spread of Covid, reducing hospitalisation rates and preventing people from becoming seriously ill. “The good news is they both work really effectively across those three key points,” he said. He urged people to speak to their GP if they had specific questions or concerns about the vaccines.

Find out more information about Covid, including where to get a vaccination locally, at the State Government’s Coronavirus information hub.