In August 2021, online articles made alarming — and utterly false — claims about a supposed new COVID mitigation policy in Australia, namely "seizing" tens of thousands of children and forcibly vaccinating them in a stadium.
For example, on Aug. 17, the Daily Expose website claimed in a headline that "Minister for Health tells parents 24,000 children will be herded into stadium like cattle to get the experimental Covid-19 vaccine."
On the same day, the right-leaning Red State blog said Australia was "cannon-balling right into the deep end of totalitarianism," and claimed that:
Australia’s Minister For Health has announced that 24,000 students will be herded into a stadium in Sydney to be vaccinated by the government...In effect, children will be forcibly removed from the presence of their parents and injected by government agents.
...Imagine for one second the American military knocking on your door and escorting your children out to receive a treatment you may not feel confident about and they may not want at all.
And on Aug. 18, the website National File published an article with the headline "Australian Government To Seize 24,000 Children, Vaccinate Them Without Parents Present In Massive Stadium."
The story asserted that: "The Australian government is going to seize 24,000 children from it’s [sic] citizens and place them in a stadium quarantine camp to be forcibly vaccinated," and added "This is not embellishment, nor is it an exaggeration. This is actually happening."
Those claims constituted not only an embellishment and exaggeration, but were a fundamental misrepresentation of an announcement made by public health officials in the state of New South Wales, earlier in August 2021. What the National File described is not "actually happening," and we are issuing a rating of "False."
What Australian Health Officials Actually Said About Stadium Vaccination
In August 2021, government officials in the state of New South Wales (NSW) announced that, in addition to adults of most age brackets, high school students aged between 16 and 18 would soon be invited to get their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the Qudos Arena (also known as the Super Dome) in the state capital of Sydney.
After being largely spared the very worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, cases and deaths had surged in Australia in 2021, and the summer had seen an outbreak of new cases in NSW, in particular, which is home to Sydney, the country's most populous city.
On Aug. 5, the state Department of Health introduced a new "stay-at-home" order for eight local government areas (roughly equivalent to U.S. counties) with particularly concerning trends in COVID-related data.
Mindful that high school students are expected to sit the Higher School Certificate (HSC) exams in October, officials in the state urged that cohort of students to get vaccinated in order to facilitate the smooth running of the exams, and prevent further outbreaks.
Against that background, at the Aug. 6 daily COVID-19 briefing, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that:
From Monday next week [i.e. Aug. 9], at Qudos Bank Arena, HSC students in those eight local government areas will be invited to get the Pfizer jab, and most of those students are between the ages of 16 and 18 years of age. And we do encourage all students to make sure they come forward for that opportunity because, obviously, by the time everybody sits for the HSC exam, which is a requirement, we want every student from those eight local government areas to have been offered the vaccine and to have taken the vaccine.
An invitation to register for the vaccination drive would be emailed to students, and a telephone help line set up to respond to questions or concerns among students and parents, Berejiklian added. In order to reduce the number of people in the stadium at any given moment, only the students registered to be vaccinated would be permitted to enter. Said Berejiklian, "We certainly don't want the virus to spread whilst people are going to get vaccinated."
In the same news conference, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard (whom Red State inaccurately described as "Australia's Minister for Health") characterized the week-long stadium vaccination program as a "golden opportunity" for high school students in the state, and sought to alleviate any potential concerns among parents, saying:
I want to stress that, to the mums and dads, your children will be well looked after inside. When they arrive, they'll be literally ushered. We'll have nurses, we'll have some of the Youth Command, we'll have some of the young police from the various operations within police there, just to guide them through as to where they go.
They'll be looked after every moment inside the stadium, and they'll be well cared for. So, mums and dads, feel secure. We've got about 24,000 students we're aiming to get through next week. The messages will come out this week, and the opportunity is there, but really you've got to take it. Grasp it with both hands.
That portion of Hazzard's remarks was posted to Twitter without any context, forming the basis of the subsequent online articles. What neither the clip nor those articles made clear was that: the mass vaccination was voluntary, not forced; the "children" in question were aged 16-18, effectively young adults; they were invited to come to the stadium, not "seized."
What was at play was a vaccination drive for young adults in order to facilitate the smooth running of important state exams in two months' time — not mass kidnapping and forced vaccination.
How the Stadium Vaccination Actually Went
There was also no need to have taken Berejiklian and Hazzard's word for it. By the time Daily Expose, National File, and Red State published their doom-laden articles, the stadium vaccination drive had already taken place.
It began on Aug. 9, and cameras inside and outside the stadium captured the harrowing spectacle of teenagers texting while standing six feet apart, being attended to by staff after receiving their shots, and even being offered hand sanitizer on their way out:
The operation did not go off without a hitch. The Guardian reported that some students were left frustrated by late changes to transport arrangements to the stadium, and Australian outlets reported that around 100 students were put on alert after a student who attended the stadium to be vaccinated on Aug. 10 later tested positive for COVID-19.
However, at time of publication there were no reports of mass kidnapping, and no images of armed police officers dragging students to get vaccinated against their will.