COVID-19 vaccinations are being “strongly recommended” for disability support workers, but the Federal Government has stopped short of making them mandatory at the latest National Cabinet meeting.
In late June, the National Cabinet made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for aged care workers and there have been calls for a similar mandate for disability support workers.
However, following the National Cabinet meeting last Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the proposal was currently not moving forward.
“The medical expert panel that dealt with the vaccination of disability care workers, while they are not at this point recommending mandating vaccines for disability care workers, they are strongly recommending it,” PM Morrison says.
“With the corporate program that will be used to incentive vaccinations for aged care workers, we will extend that to disability care workers as well."
PM Morrison says the Government was looking to incentivise corporate sector vaccinations for aged care and disability workers, to try and boost vaccine uptake.
More details about the program are yet to be released, but the Prime Minister says it was discussed in the National Cabinet on Friday.
Disability Minister supports jab mandate for workers
While the National Cabinet chose not to proceed with mandatory vaccines for the time being, the Federal Disability Minister, Linda Reynolds, says she is committed to making COVID-19 vaccines compulsory for the disability sector.
Senator Reynolds says as the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) she was very supportive of the mandate.
"Given they [disability workers] are working with such vulnerable people I think it is very important and I would encourage every disability worker to go and get vaccinated," Senator Reynolds told ABC radio on Monday.
"National Cabinet did agree last week to encourage residential disability support workers to have their COVID-19 vaccination as soon as possible.
"They will then look further at whether states and territories then make it mandatory."
Currently, less than 40 percent of registered disability workers have received at least one dose of the vaccine, despite being included in the highest priority group of the national rollout, which started five months ago.
Of the NDIS participants in residential settings, less than one in five have been fully vaccinated.
Disability advocates are split on whether vaccinations should be made mandatory for disability care workers.
National Disability Services (NDS) Senior State and Territory Manager Karen Stace says the decision to not make the vaccine mandatory in disability settings is “hugely disappointing”.
"The vulnerability of people with disability to the worst impacts of the virus has been recognised by the Federal Government in the past and the move to not provide full protection for these members of the community is a let down," Ms Stace says.
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer at the Physical Disability Council of New South Wales (PDCN), Serena Ovens, says the Government should approach mandatory vaccines with caution.
There are concerns that a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine could cause a number of people who work in disability care to leave the sector, says Ms Ovens.
Calls for greater education on vaccines, an increased availability of vaccines and paid leave have all been suggested as alternative encouragements to push disability workers to receive the vaccine.
The National Cabinet has agreed to revisit the issue of mandatory vaccination for disability support workers in residential settings in August, with a proposed deadline of 31 October 2021 for workers to receive at least one dose.