Royal Commission highlights deficient COVID-19 vaccine strategy and roll-out for people with disability

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has found “the conduct of the vaccine rollout, especially to people living in residential disability settings and disability support workers was ‘seriously deficient’”, undertaken without consulting the disability sector.

The draft report identifies three core problems with the rollout of vaccines for people with disability:

  • The failure to consult with people with disability, disability support workers, disability representative organisations and service providers in developing the strategy;
  • The lack of transparency in decision making – most evident in the Department of Health’s decision to deprioritise the vaccination of people with disability, which was not communicated publicly for six weeks; and
  • The failure to provide clear and easily comprehensible information about the vaccines and the rollout of the vaccines to people with disability, which contributed to ongoing vaccine hesitancy and fear among a group at risk of serious consequences if they became infected with the virus.

The Commission recommends that the Australian Government “use its best endeavours to 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 … unless and until the Government is satisfied that:

  • all people with disability, particularly NDIS participants, people living in residential disability accommodation and people with intellectual disability have, and appreciate that they have, the opportunity to be fully vaccinated; and
  • all active disability support workers have been fully vaccinated.

“It would be grossly unfair, indeed unconscionable, if any people with disability who have not been given the opportunity to be fully vaccinated by the time the 70% threshold is reached are denied the freedoms available to people who have been fully vaccinated,” the report says.

“Notwithstanding disability care residents were part of the most vulnerable group, the Department of Health had pivoted to focus on aged-care residents….. The ‘pivot’ had the effect of deprioritising people with disability – that is, placing them below people in aged care accommodation in the vaccine rollout even though both were included in Phase 1a of the Strategy,” the report reads. The “Department lost an opportunity to make significant progress on vaccinating people within the Priority Disability Group who were most at risk of serious consequences from contracting COVID-19,” the report reads.

Professor Anne Kavanagh, University of Melbourne, said that if Australia opened up “too much” at 70% double vaccinated, all the models indicated a “significant number of deaths” in the disability community.

“It has been estimated nearly six out of every 10 people who died last year in England had a disability, while another study found people with learning disabilities were eight times more likely to die from COVID than the general population,” reports The Guardian Australia.

Why this matters for Australia’s adult and community education (ACE) providers

“The findings by the Royal Commission matter greatly for Australia’s ACE providers, because our sector plays such an important role in the education and training of adults with a disability,” said Dr Don Perlgut, CEO of Community Colleges Australia.

“More than 20% of Australian ACE provider government-funded VET students have a stated disability across Australia, a figure that we know to be an undercount, by at least 5%,” said Dr Perlgut. “Our sector has an important role in training people with a disability, and it matters – a lot – that they have access to timely vaccinations, so that they can commence or continue their post-secondary study.

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