Following a tumultuous national rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability will be examining the Australian Government's approach to vaccinating Australia's most at risk.
A one day hearing will be held on 17 May by the Disability Royal Commission, looking into the success of the vaccine rollout for the disability sector, including the vaccination of people with disability and disability support workers.
The vaccine rollout has been labelled a "failure" by health experts, and disability advocates and people with disability expressed anger when Health Department officials admitted that disability residents were put on the backburner so they could finish vaccinating aged care residents.
Initially, the Commission had welcomed the COVID-19 vaccine strategy on 9 February as well as the Government's decision to prioritise people in disability care and their staff (Phase 1a) plus younger people with disability (Phase 1b).
Chair of the Royal Commission, Ronald Sackville AO QC, noted that the COVID-19 vaccine strategy was in line with the recommendations from their 26 November 2020 report provided to Parliament, about the experiences of people with disability during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report, Public Hearing 5: Experiences of people with disability during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, identified the Government as failing people with disability when the coronavirus pandemic was at its height.
Among the 22 recommendations of the report, there was a guideline drafted, in consultation with disability organisations and people with disability, that if a vaccine was to become available people with disability and disability support workers would have access to it.
Last week, the Australian Government announced its support, or support in principle, for 21 of the recommendations from this report, including the recommendation about access for people with disability and support workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Australian Government noted only one recommendation out of the 22:
Recommendation 16: The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commissioner’s policies, procedures and practices should reflect its powers and responsibilities to take active measures to protect and preserve the safety, health and wellbeing of National Disability Insurance Scheme participants during an emergency such as a pandemic
They say, "The Australian Government notes the recommendation, which warrants further consideration in relation to the objects and terms of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 and its interaction with state and territory laws, including those related to public health and emergency management arrangements."
The Royal Commission has welcomed the response from the Government, however, they also note that disability advocacy groups, people with disability, and services providers expressed deep concern about the extremely low numbers and proportion of people with disability and disability support workers who have been vaccinated.
They have also noted that there has been a lack of information around the implementation of the rollout for people with disability.
The Disability Royal Commission has received numerous concerns directly around the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, including issues with the rollout not being implemented to priority groups initially highlighted in the first phase of the strategy and not meeting the expectations of people with disability.
Commissioner Sackville will be presiding over the hearing with Commissioner Roslyn Atkinson AO, Commissioner Barbara Bennett PSM, and Commissioner Dr Rhonda Galbally AC. Counsel Assisting Kate Eastman SC will also be appearing at the hearing for the Commission.
While the hearing is closed to the public, you can still live stream the event on the Royal Commission website.
This new hearing around the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is on top of the Federal Government's current backlash for ignoring the Disability Royal Commission's request for an extension and current Senate Committee hearings around independent assessments.