The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has recommended COVID-19 vaccinations be made mandatory for disability support workers.
The Committee, which is made up of the Chief Health Officers from each State and Territory, suggests workers should have their first dose of the vaccine before 30 November, 2021, and the second dose before 31 December, 2021.
In its statement, the AHPPC states mandatory vaccination of disability support workers is “an important protection for people with disability”.
The AHPPC recommends that the mandate extend to all disability support workers who provide intensive support services through a registered National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) provider or as an employee of a State or Territory Government.
The intensive support services which are recommended to be included are:
Assistance with daily tasks in a shared living environment
Assistance with daily personal activities
Group social and recreational activities which help people with disability to access the community
Supported employment like Australian Disability Enterprises
Community nursing care that is not the responsibility of the health system
Therapeutic support aimed at adjustment, adaption and building capacity for community participation
Compliance with the vaccine mandate will be monitored by the NDIS Commission and State and Territory Governments.
Under the mandate, NDIS providers will be obligated to only employ people who have been vaccinated unless they have a valid exemption, but workers who are not part of a registered NDIS service will not fall under the recommended mandate.
The AHPPC’s decision has been welcomed by the Minister for the NDIS, Senator Linda Reynolds.
“This decision reflects the extensive consultation I have undertaken with the disability sector, disability representative organisations and NDIS participants,” she says.
“While it is pleasing to see almost 80 percent of NDIS screened workers are fully vaccinated, it is integral that disability workers get vaccinated to not only protect themselves, but to protect those they support.”
Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, told a recent press conference that the mandate had been endorsed by the National Cabinet of State, Territory and Federal leaders, but that it will still be up to State and Territory Governments to enforce it.
“Our position has been very clear that we have seen that there were limited circumstances - aged care and disability - where we had workers with vulnerable personnel, the Commonwealth would be supporting a mandatory vaccination program. Beyond that, it's a matter for the States and others,” he says.
This week Queensland became the last State to mandate vaccination for disability support services workers in healthcare settings, including not only hospitals but also shared disability accommodation, residential aged care and outreach services. These workers will need to be fully vaccinated by December 15.
Other States and Territories have set various dates for COVID-19 vaccine mandates for disability support workers to come into effect and some dates have already passed:
Victoria - first dose by 22 October, second dose by 26 November
New South Wales - first dose by 25 October, second dose by 29 November
Australian Capital Territory - first dose by 1 November, second dose by 29 November
Northern Territory - first dose by 12 November and a booking for a second dose by 24 December
Tasmania - first dose by 21 November, with evidence of a second dose booked by the same date
South Australia - first dose by 30 November, a date isn’t set for the second dose
Western Australia - first dose by 1 December, second dose by 30 December
Minister Hunt says with disability support worker vaccination rates around Australia reported to be at around 85 percent, it’s not a significant “distance to travel” to enforce the mandate.
However, vaccination data is only collected from registered NDIS workers, a cohort of 235,200 people, and does not cover other disability support workers or specialists which provide intensive care to people with disability.
People With Disability Australia (PWDA) Senior Manager of Policy, Giancarlo de Vera, says, “The level of vaccinations among NDIS screened disability support workers has increased significantly over recent weeks but we’d like to see the rates increase further in order to maximise protection and security for people with disability.
“However, NDIS screened workers only account for about half of all disability workers and so the vaccination status of half the disability support workforce is actually unknown.”
Although the mandates are in place for some workers, Mx* de Vera says people with disability may still be at risk through workers who are not vaccinated.
“It’s important that people with disability are provided with accessible educational resources that can help them minimise risk when they’re booking support services, and that the mandate for disability support workers to get vaccinated is effectively communicated across Australia by Government and industry,” adds Mx de Vera.
*Mx is a gender neutral title used by people who don't identify as being of a particular gender or people who don't want to be identified by gender. [Definition from Merriam-Webster online dictionary]