The health system is not well set up to appropriately respond to long Covid and post-Covid conditions among children, including addressing serious mental health issues, a parliamentary inquiry has been told.
Paediatric infectious diseases physician Philip Britton told the committee on Monday that while some children had pre-existing mental health issues before they became infected with Covid-19, others did not.
Anxiety was the main problem and he said it indicated the “pressure and burden” of the pandemic on children.
“In our post-Covid survey, those children who had … long Covid were predominantly older than 10 and there was a slight female predominance,” he said.
Among younger children, there was often a persistence of a cough and sometimes wheezing, which he said showed post-Covid conditions were usually different in younger children than older children.
“The health system in my setting, in NSW … is not well set up to appropriately respond to long Covid and post-Covid conditions in children at this point in time,” he said.
“The challenge is because we do not have a well co-ordinated system … we’re also not defining the condition well enough to then inform clinical practice at a primary care level.”
Paediatric infectious diseases specialist and microbiologist Brendan McMullan agreed, adding there was a lack of dedicated funding for long Covid care.
Asked about low Covid-19 vaccination rates among children, Dr McMullan said it was an “important and difficult issue”.
“In general, health professionals … have attempted to advocate for the importance of Covid vaccination in children,” he said.
“Those vaccination rates seem persistently to lag well behind the vaccination rates for other diseases.”
Dr McMullan noted most children in Australia had experienced Covid-19 at some point.
“There is perhaps a perception among parents that the benefit of vaccination now is somewhat more limited if their child has had Covid,” he said.
“The vaccine rollout happening in a staged process has meant that as the age of the child comes down the rollout of the vaccine has been later and later.
“By the time we got around to being able to vaccinate five to 12-year-old’s — and certainly for the under five’s — many people’s perceptions of the dangers of Covid had waned.”
The inquiry into long Covid and repeated Covid infections is expected to hand down its report by April next year.