People with disability let down in national vaccine rollout, royal commission finds

By Jackson Graham

Tuesday September 28, 2021

Linda Reynolds
Responding to the findings, NDIS minister Linda Reynolds said progress had been made since the commission’s hearings in May.  (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The Department of Health failed to consult with the disability sector at crucial times during the nation’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, made opaque decisions and gave insufficient attention to offering information, a royal commision has found. 

The federal government countered the findings with figures claiming about five times the number of people with disability are vaccinated now than in June.

But a draft report from the Disability Royal Commission acknowledged the department faced challenges early in the rollout that it failed to meet, resulting in a “seriously deficient” provision for people with disability. 

The report, released this week, condemns a decision the department made in March 2021 to ‘deprioritise’ people in residential disability from phase 1a of the vaccine rollout to instead focus on aged care residents. 

The government disputes its intention was to relegate any group in the rollout but the commissioners highlight that fewer than 1% of vaccine doses went to people with disability in the first eight weeks. 

“DOH deprioritised disability residential settings relative to aged care, which was contrary to the COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Strategy,” the commissioners write. 

The commissioners also found the framing of the rollout strategy during 2020 and early 2021 involved a lack of genuine consultation with disability groups. 

They then found the department did not provide vaccination information to people with disability in a form that would reach them and be understood. 

“The lack of clarity in the flow of information contributed to confusion among people with disability,” the report says. 

The commissioners recommend no states or territories should significantly ease restrictions when they hit double-dose targets for 70% of the population older than 16 unless all people with disability and support workers have the chance to be fully vaccinated. 

“It is also unacceptable for people who have not had a genuine opportunity to be vaccinated to be exposed to an increased risk of contracting COVID-19,” they write. 

Responding to the findings, NDIS minister Linda Reynolds said progress had been made since the commission’s hearings in May. 

She said about 65% of NDIS participants 16 years and older had received at least one COVID-19 dose. 

“This is a fivefold increase, or 450%, since early June,” Reynolds said in a statement.

“People with disability are continuing to be prioritised for vaccinations, with more than 4000 sites having received commonwealth in-reach, as well as through community-based vaccination hubs specific to disability.” 

Opposition NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten said Labor feared unvaccinated people with disability would be stranded in their homes as the nation opened up.

Not only did the Morrison government ignore Australians with disability at the beginning of the pandemic, but they are also now being treated as an afterthought in the plans to open the nation up,” he said. 

“The Morrison-Joyce government must commence a blitz on vaccinating all people with disabilities or we may see deaths that were avoidable.”


READ MORE:

Delayed vaccine rollout has heightened government distrust from the Australian disability sector

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