A draft report from the The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has found the nation’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, especially to people living in residential disability settings and disability support workers, was “seriously deficient”.
This is just one of 17 findings and seven recommendations they propose to make about the Australian Government’s approach to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout as it affects people with disability, particularly people in residential disability settings and people with intellectual disability.
And as various states move closer to the “magic” 70% double vaccination target, and new freedom from lockdowns and restrictions are promised, the Draft Report claims that Australians living with disability will be left vulnerable if governments relax restrictions before the entire eligible population is fully vaccinated.
It is concerned that easing the restrictions significantly before all people with a disability, particularly people in residential disability accommodation and people with intellectual disability, have a genuine opportunity to be fully vaccinated would be premature.
The draft report says the Department of Health made a critical decision in early March 2021 to give priority in the vaccine rollout to aged care residents over all people in residential disability settings.
However, this crucial decision was made without consulting the disability sector and was not made public until the Department gave evidence to the Senate Select Standing Committee on COVID-19 on 20 April - six weeks after the decision was made, the report stated.
Developing Australian Communities co-founder and disability sector advocate River Night told ABC radio Queensland this week, the vaccine rollout was a “shemozzle” and was putting lives at risk.
“That is why this draft report had to be released because there could be catastrophic consequences,” Mr. Night said.
“The most vulnerable people in our community are the ones who are most likely to have a terrible outcome if they get COVID - the ones with disabilities or those more likely to suffer health complications are the people at most risk.
“And they are, right now, part of the population that have had the worst results when it comes to actually helping get people vaccinated.”
Mr. Night said physically getting someone there to have the vaccine was a nightmare because they actually needed support, particularly if they had a physical disability, but the sector simply does not have those resources.
He said the disability sector was originally targeted in the vaccine rollout but the government took those resources away from the sector and put them into aged care “without telling anyone”.
That “deprioritising” of people in the disability sector was disappointing but not surprising, Mr Night said.
The confusion this decision caused is still being felt.
The draft report identifies three core problems with the rollout of vaccines for people with disability:
The draft report also considers the National Plan to transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response, which envisions that states and territories will enter a “Vaccination Transition Phase” and begin significantly easing restrictions when the average double dose vaccination rates across the country AND in individual jurisdictions reach 70% of the population aged 16 and older.
Some states have announced that they will ease restrictions when the 70% threshold is reached in their particular jurisdiction (not nationally).
The Royal Commission expressed concern that restrictions might be significantly eased before all people with disability, particularly people in residential disability accommodation and people with intellectual disability have a genuine opportunity to be fully vaccinated.
Without that opportunity, they face significant risks to their health if they contract COVID-19, the report stated.
Therefore it recommended the Australian Government should ensure that no state or territory significantly eases restrictions when the threshold of 70% of the population 16 years of age and older being fully vaccinated is met (however the threshold requirement is interpreted), unless and until the Government is satisfied that:
But Mr Night, who has more than two decades of experience in the disability sector, said mandatory vaccinations for disability support workers in such a spread out industry was complicated.
“It isn’t like going to a nursing home and doing mass vaccinations in one location, as a large percentage of people with disabilities are not in group homes so getting them to vaccination stations is not simple,” he said.