While much of the focus has been on whether the Federal Government will mandate vaccinations for disability support staff, recent data provided by the Department of Health reveals only 5,000 people living in disability care have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The news comes more than four months into the national vaccine rollout and means less than one in five Australians living in a residential care setting have received both vaccinations.
People with Disability Australia President, Sam Connor, has muscular dystrophy, heart and lung issues and uses a wheelchair. Ms Connors secured her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Saturday.
However, speaking with AAP yesterday, Ms Connor described the vaccine rollout as a “debacle” for the disability community.
“We have been forgotten, omitted and disregarded in the biggest threat to us,” she says.
“We are the ones who are going to die from this and the fact that we don’t get spoken about, it feels really dehumanising.”
“Until everybody with a disability who requires care and support and who might be clinically vulnerable to the virus is vaccinated, then it’s not acceptable.”
Disability sector is left asking the same questions
The Federal Government originally announced that disability care residents and staff were meant to be vaccinated within six weeks of the rollout’s commencement in mid-February.
However, of the 27,000 National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants aged 16 and over living in shared homes, just over 40% have received one dose, while less than 20% have received both doses and are fully vaccinated.
Australian Greens Disability spokesperson, Senator Jordon Steele-John, says the Federal Government should have made a plan to vaccinate people with disability and disability support workers in April, when it was revealed that less than 10 percent had been vaccinated.
“I’m blown away by the contempt that the Morrison Government has shown for disabled people, our families and the people who support us to live a good life since the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mr Steele-John says.
“Disabled people and carers were denied the COVID supplement back in March 2020 when many people’s costs were significantly increased due to quarantine, lock down and COVID restrictions.
“Then, the Disability Royal Commission heard that the Morrison Government hadn’t included disabled people in their emergency response plan for COVID-19.”
The Government faced criticism in April this year when, without consultation, it shifted all resources to vaccinate aged care, despite Australians living in disability care also being in the highest priority group.
This led the Disability Royal Commission last month to declare the slow rollout of COVID vaccines into the disability sector an “abject failure”.
“Here we are, almost a year later, asking the same questions about why disabled people get treated differently to other at-risk members of the community with regards to the vaccine rollout,” Mr Steele-John says.
Government expects to ramp up vaccine supply to disability sector
Speaking alongside Health Minister Greg Hunt at a press conference in Melbourne yesterday, Commodore Eric Young, Operations Coordinator from the Vaccine Operations Centre, provided an update on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Mr Young says the focus has been on aged care but expects to see increases in the number of vaccines reaching the disability sector.
“As we complete the residential aged care facilities, we will start to roll out vaccine service providers and continue ramping up the disability sector,” Mr Young says.
“We now have 12,521 people with a disability in a residential setting having received at least one dose of vaccine.
“This week, like we do every week, we want to ensure that all eligible Australians know how and where to access a vaccine. And again, I point everyone to the Eligibility Checker on the Health website at health.gov.au, where they can access and we’ve had more than 12.9 million visits to that website.”
“But today, like we do every single day, our focus is ensuring the vaccines we have are available across the country, where and when they’re most needed, to protect more Australians.”
Shadow Minister for the NDIS, Bill Shorten, says NDIS participants and disability care workers have been forgotten.
“There are thousands and thousands of people with disabilities for whom they’ve never been able to come out of isolation since COVID started because their workers haven’t been vaccinated,” Mr Shorten says.
“We might well end up with mandating vaccinations for disability workers, but at the moment, it’s a pipe dream.”
The Government is yet to make an announcement on whether home care workers will be included in the mandatory vaccination plan.