This week all children aged 12 to 15 who are participants of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) have become eligible to receive a Pfizer vaccine to protect them from COVID-19.
Although children in that age group with specific underlying medical conditions have been eligible for the vaccine for almost a month, opening it up to all NDIS participants above the age of 12 covers another 40,000 children.
Senior Manager of Policy for People with Disability Australia Giancarlo de Vera says the change to the vaccine rollout will also benefit older NDIS participants.
“The expansion of Pfizer to all people with disabilities needed to happen,” he says.
“The choice of vaccine is really important to people with disabilities.
“We have people with very valid reasons as to why some vaccines, particularly AstraZeneca, wouldn’t have been as effective.”
Providing the vaccine to children with a disability under the age of 16 needed to be approved by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) before vaccinations could begin this week and Federal Minister for the NDIS Senator Linda Reynolds says she had been calling for the decision.
“I am so pleased ATAGI has now approved this expansion in the vaccine rollout for NDIS participants,” she says.
But Mr de Vera says the Government’s record so far has not given people with disabilities faith that they are being prioritised or that their barriers to receiving a vaccine are understood.
“A huge proportion of us were to be vaccinated back by April, we were eligible in phase 1a and 1b of the rollout which began in February,” Mr de Vera says.
“The fact that we are nowhere near where we need to be when it comes to that rollout is an indication that this decision around the vaccine may be a bit too late.”
Senator Reynolds says she understands many NDIS participants need more complex vaccination arrangements than the general public and residents in aged care facilities in order to lift vaccination rates.
“This includes the crucial need to ensure informed consent or appropriate decision-making for individuals before the vaccine is delivered and administered,” she says.
“There has been a concerted and sustained effort across Government and the disability sector to communicate the importance of vaccination, and to increase the points of access available to people with disability, including specialist disability vaccination hubs.”
Simply asking people with disabilities to go to a vaccination hub is not enough though, according to Mr de Vera.
As many people with disabilities self-isolate because they do not feel safe leaving their home with the risk of catching COVID-19 in the community, Mr de Vera says the Government needs to provide in-home vaccinations – because vaccinations at hubs mean leaving the house – and that a dedicated booking system for people with disability is also needed.
“They keep saying to us; ‘you are a priority, you have access to the vaccine’ but there’s a difference between saying that and having jabs in arms,” he says.
“So what we need in order to get jabs in arms is a clear plan that has targets and also has timeframes as well.
“We also then need to have transparent and regularly reported data to know how we’re going.”