Over 60 disability organisations have provided an open letter to the Government demanding immediate action to vaccinate and protect all Australians with disability against COVID-19 after little effort was put in to the inoculation of one of Australia's most vulnerable groups.
People with disability were identified as an at risk group during the beginning of the pandemic in the country, and were subsequently given priority access in the vaccination rollout - Phase 1a and 1b.
The rollout began in February 2021, however, the Government de-prioritised people with disability and their carers so they could focus on vaccinating aged care residents instead.
With all the hurdles throughout the rollout, around 65.2 percent of people with disability living in residential disability and aged care accommodation have received at least one dose and 51.5 percent of National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) screened workers are vaccinated (not the total disability workforce).
Yesterday health authorities in the Hunter region of New South Wales announced nine staff of disability support homes across Newcastle had tested positive to COVID-19 and worked while unknowingly infectious.
Authorities said a majority of residents at the facilities had received at least one dose of the vaccine but did not disclose the vaccination status of the workers who had tested positive.
In June, People With Disability Australia, peak body for people with disability, contacted the National Cabinet, Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPCP), the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and State and Territory disability ministers, calling for a more coordinated response to this issue.
Disability organisations are now again following up with the Government about protecting people with disability and have provided a clear 11 point plan that would help keep people with disability safe against COVID-19 by incorporating best practice standards of COVID-19 vaccination rollouts from the International Disability Alliance.
PWDA Senior Manager of Policy, Giancarlo de Vera, says that the aim of the 11 point plan is to get clarity and transparency from the Government, as well as set goalposts so that the disability sector can know if the Government is falling behind in their targets.
"I think the Government are making the effort, however, what we are frustrated about is the transparency around what they are doing. And while the pace in what they are doing is improving with the rollout, it doesn't really give us confidence when they aren't being transparent in what they are doing," explains Mr de Vera.
"We have no visibility or transparency around people that don't fall under 1a and 1b and those who don't have an NDIS plan.
"A key thing in the letter is being clear and honest about how they want to do things and when they want to do it. We want to know what they are doing but we also want to know when we can say this is not working and hold them to account."
Mr de Vera adds that the 11 point plan includes actions that they believe can be done quickly and wouldn't take a long time to implement.
While they haven't received a formal response to the open letter, Mr de Vera says there does seem to be some action taken recently that would suggest that the Government is listening, like easily available reporting data.
The 11 point plan actions include:
Release a clear public plan and transparent timeframes on how the Australian Government will complete phases 1a and 1b of the vaccines rollout
Release a clear public plan and transparent timeframes on how all people with disability, including young people, in all cluster settings not included in Phase 1a will be vaccinated.
Release a clear plan and timeframes on how people with disability not included in phases 1a and 1b of the vaccine rollout will be vaccinated
Create a dedicated and fully accessible vaccination booking system for all people with disability and their supporters.
Release a clear public plan and transparent timeframe for all people with disability and their supporters to access the vaccine of their choice, including Pfizer, and centrally coordinate the availability of vaccines with State and Territory Governments.
Vaccinate all young people with disability (age 12+) in a centrally coordinated effort implemented with State and Territory Governments.
Vaccinate all close contacts including carers, support workers and family members (age 12+) of people with disability.
Release a breakdown of public data on the vaccination numbers for all people with disability now, and continue to publicly report at least weekly on these numbers.
Provide accessible and up-to-date information in a variety of formats and languages for people with disability and their supporters about all lockdown rules and changes in one central place and ensure all disability services are aware of current rules.
Ensure the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission takes immediate action to enforce public health orders in disability services and ensure people with disability have what they need to stay safe.
Promote, track and report the use of current Medicare flag-fall arrangements (MBS item 90005) to provide a call-out service to people with disability, so people can be vaccinated in their place of residence.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of PWDA, Sebastian Zagarella, says, "Now that unvaccinated people are dying in this country of the Delta variant, we need Australia’s national, state and territory governments to get serious and commit to completing the rollout of vaccines to people with disability.
"People with disability include some of the most clinically vulnerable people and Australia’s governments must prioritise the rollout of vaccines to people with disability as a matter of urgency."
CEO of the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO), Ross Joyce, says, "The sector is united in our frustration and demands immediate action on the vaccine rollout for the most vulnerable in our community as was promised by the Morrison Government."
Inclusion Australia CEO, Catherine McAlpine, says, "All people with intellectual disability in group homes need to be vaccinated right away.
"They should have been vaccinated at the start of the rollout, as they are a group at very high risk of adverse outcomes if they get COVID-19. We need all governments to do their bit urgently."
The organisations are looking forward to hearing back from the Government about this 11 point plan and its implementation.