Disability Advocates Condemn Use Of ‘Underlying Health Conditions’ As COVID Death Explainer

8 September 2021

Disability advocates are lashing government ministers and bureaucrats for victim-blaming people dying from COVID-19 by saying they died with ‘underlying health conditions’.

The hashtag #UnderlyingHealthConditions is currently trending on Twitter, with people with disability protesting that having a disability or chronic health condition ‘was not a death sentence’ if they did not contract the virus.

A graph recently shared by the Gratton Institute highlighted the fact that about 10 million Australians were at higher risk of complications, including a whopping 1.8 million with three or more health conditions that put them at higher risk of death.

Gratton Institute Health Director Professor Stephen Duckett wrote on Twitter, “When people talk dismissively that someone who died from COVID had ‘underlying health conditions’, besides being ethically reprehensible, remember this includes about 40% of the population.”

Professor Kerryn Phelps AM publicly agreed.

“May I suggest that the words #UnderlyingHealthCondition be removed from reports about COVID-19?” she argued.

“Many people of all ages live with some chronic health condition. They deserve consideration and protection, not have their ‘condition’ used as an ‘excuse’ for a COVID-19 statistic.”

People with Disability Australia (PWDA) President Samantha Connor highlighted the need for data to not be conflated with public messaging.

“The disability sector has been clear about our need for more public information about the people with disability who have died, including statistics about deaths and contributing conditions, so that we can assess our individual risk,” Ms Connor said.

“That’s quite a different thing from inferring that our deaths were inevitable or expected when we have died from a virus that also kills non-disabled people.”

PWDA, along with other disability organisations, are waiting for a clear plan and targets to ensure priority groups are vaccinated – including people with disability and chronic medical conditions – before any plans to open-up are announced.

“We are still waiting,” Ms Connor said. “We are waiting for a plan, for double-vaccination twin-targets, for access to and adequate supply of vaccines and for certainty that we will be safe.”

The peak disabled people’s organisation’s plea comes after it and a coalition of disability representative organisations released an 11-point plan last month, calling for disability and other clinically vulnerable groups to be prioritised.

The organisations have also been vocal in encouraging Australians to access vaccines where and when they can, if they are eligible.

PWDA Vice-President Kelly Cox called on Australians to get vaccinated with whatever vaccine was available to them, if they were eligible for a jab.

“The risk of blood clots is quite small, it’s miniscule compared to the risk of COVID,” Ms Cox said.

“Some people might have a higher risk of complications, but this is why you need to talk to a doctor and discuss your medical history and the risk of a vaccine versus the risk of COVID.

“Be safe and do your best to keep others safe.”


Media Contact

Michael Badorrek, PWDA Marketing & Communications Manager

michaelb@pwd.org.au | +61 408 682 867