All aged care workers are now required to have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and some States have even mandated vaccines for all health workers, but so far no national mandate has been announced for disability support workers.
Meanwhile people with disability continue to be at a higher risk of catching COVID-19 because workers are not required to be vaccinated, despite their clients being more vulnerable to illness than the general population.
As of yesterday, registered NDIS providers had notified the Government of 13 deaths of people with disability from the disease, along with 141 active cases in NDIS participants and 206 recovered cases.
Yesterday’s data also showed 213 registered NDIS workers were active cases and 264 had recovered, with no deaths recorded of workers.
However, those figures are only reported by registered NDIS providers and do not cover all NDIS participants or people with a disability who do not access the NDIS.
Community care provider Catholic Health Australia has called for the vaccine mandate applied to aged care workers to extend to disability support workers as they are also in close contact with vulnerable people who are more at risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.
The organisation’s Director of Mission and Strategy Rebecca Burdick Davies says if mandatory vaccination is good enough for residential aged care and health care workers it must be good enough for disability support workers.
“We have a duty to protect the most vulnerable in our community and we can start by requiring our staff to be vaccinated,” she says.
“These workers are going into people’s homes and moving around the community - it is part of their job description.
“Their place of work is the community and we have learned that the Delta variant spreads rapidly via mobile workforces.”
Ms Burdick Davies says with extra supplies of the vaccine expected to boost the number of appointments available to all members of the public, there was no excuse for not mandating that disability support workers be vaccinated.
“Every day we delay is another day where people living with a disability and the people that care for them are exposed to unnecessary risk,” she says.
“Our members are already organising the vaccination of staff but for the minority who are hesitating for whatever reason, that hard push from Government will draw a line in the sand.”
National Disability Insurance Scheme Minister Linda Reynolds has previously said she is committed to COVID-19 vaccines being compulsory in the disability sector but it is up to the National Cabinet of State, Territory and Federal Government leaders to introduce a mandate.
New South Wales is the only State to have introduced a requirement that disability support workers must have had at least one shot of the vaccine to attend work, but it only applies to those who either live or work in a Local Government Area of concern - of which there are currently 12.
In early September Minister Reynolds announced that providers could claim a $100 payment to support vaccination of each of those affected workers, but the payment is only available to registered NDIS providers and is not being used as an incentive for other providers across the country.
Victoria has incentivised vaccination for disability support workers by providing half a day’s paid leave for them to receive the jab, but has stopped short of mandating it.
While today Australians have reached the figure of 70 percent of the eligible population over 16 having received their first dose of the vaccine, the rates of all disability sector employees and people with a disability across Australia are not reported by the Government, although industry organisations believe they are too low to protect vulnerable people.
Over the last few months more than 60 disability organisations have been advocating to the Government to accept an 11 point plan to protect people with disability, including a focus to “vaccinate all close contacts including carers, support workers and family members (age 12+) of people with disability”.
However, the organisations have been disappointed in a lack of response to the plan from key Government figures.
In August the National Cabinet considered a mandate to force disability support workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 31, however no decision was made.
The National Cabinet is meeting again today and will discuss the vaccine rollout, although it is unclear whether expanding the mandate from aged care to include in home care and disability support will be discussed.