Disability inquiry warns against opening up early amid ‘deficient’ vaccine rollout
28 September 2021 at 4:37 pm
Advocates hope a damning royal commission report will serve as a wake up call for government to speed up the vaccination rollout for people with disability
All people with disability must have a genuine opportunity to be fully vaccinated before there is a significant easing of COVID restrictions in any state or territory, the disability royal commission says.
The inquiry’s latest draft report has slammed the federal government’s vaccine rollout for people with disability, labelling the Department of Health’s strategy “seriously deficient”.
The report criticised the government for not telling the disability community it was focusing on vaccinating people in aged care homes for six weeks – rather than people in residential disability accommodation – from early March this year.
People in disability group homes were included in the first phase (1A) of the vaccine rollout, and so were “misled into continuing to believe” they were a priority until the decision was made public on 20 April.
“Not surprisingly, the failure to communicate the decision in a timely manner caused many people with disability to lose trust and confidence in the Australian government’s handling of the vaccine rollout,” the report said.
Data shows only two thirds of National Disability Insurance Scheme participants in group homes are currently fully vaccinated, while for NDIS-screened workers the vaccination rate is 57 per cent.
The report warned that given these figures, opening up the country too early would pose a health risk to people with disability who are more vulnerable to the virus.
The commission said all people with disability – and disability support workers – must have a genuine opportunity to be fully vaccinated before states and territories start significantly easing restrictions.
“In our view, it would be grossly unfair, indeed unconscionable, if any people with disability who have not been given the opportunity to be fully vaccinated by the time the 70 per cent threshold is reached are denied the freedoms available to people who have been fully vaccinated,” the report said.
“The unfairness is magnified once it is accepted – as it must be – that increased freedoms for the fully vaccinated increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 for people who are not fully vaccinated.
“It is one thing for people who choose not to be vaccinated to be denied these freedoms; it is quite another for people who have been denied the opportunity to be fully vaccinated also to be denied those freedoms.”
Disability advocates say government has lacked clear vax plan
People With Disability Australia (PWDA) has welcomed the report, which it says echoes the vaccine rollout concerns raised by the sector in recent months.
While the commission criticised the government for a lack of consultation with disability groups, PWDA CEO Sebastian Zagarella told Pro Bono News the bigger problem was the lack of a clear plan for ramping up the rollout.
“We’ve certainly been speaking [with government] for a long time,” Zagarella said.
“The main concern for us is that there still doesn’t seem to be a very clear plan from government on how they aim to catch up on vaccinations for people with disability who seem to have been left behind.”
Zagarella said the government should back the sector’s 11-point plan – unveiled in August – to urgently improve the vaccine rollout for the disability community.
This plan includes releasing a clear public plan and transparent timeframes on how phases 1A and 1B will be completed, creating a dedicated and fully accessible vaccination booking system for people with disability, and regularly publishing disaggregated public data on the vaccination numbers for this cohort.
Zagarella said the next steps for the government are identifying what the barriers to vaccination are, putting a plan in place, and releasing clear, accessible messages to the disability community.
He said he hoped the damning findings of the report spurred the government into action.
“I’m hoping that is a bit of a wake up call for them to get some action in place quickly,” he said.
The federal government has indicated it will formally consider the recommendations and findings of the report once it is finalised and presented to the governor-general.
You can see the report here.