Disability Advocates Say New COVID-19 Vaccine Data Show People With Disability Are Being Left Behind

25 August 2021

Disability advocates have increased pressure on the Federal Government to speed up and broaden the COVID-19 vaccine rollout for people with disability after the release of vaccination data which shows the rollout for people with disability is significantly lagging behind other priority groups.

The disability community’s efforts follow months of lobbying by People with Disability Australia (PWDA) and other advocates, including several attempts to get the Federal Government and National Cabinet to respond to an 11-point plan – endorsed by more than 70 disability organisations – for better prioritising people with disability in the vaccine rollout program.

PWDA – Australia’s peak cross-disability advocacy organisation – says new figures released by the office of National Disability Insurance Scheme Minister Senator Linda Reynolds point to a failure of planning and implementation in relation to protecting people with disability from the virus.

PWDA President Samantha Connor said: “In the past few weeks, we’ve found out that the 1a and 1b disability priority groups were actively deprioritised by government, that there are no disability targets or strategies in place and that people with disability are being left behind in the vaccine rollout.”

“It is appalling that the groups who were initially prioritised by government as more at risk than the rest of the community have been so completely forgotten.”

In a letter sent to PWDA by Minister Reynolds on Sunday night, statistics showed that of 27,293 people with disability eligible under Phase 1a, 67% had received at least one dose and just 51.4% had been fully vaccinated.

Ms Connor believes that the government has grossly underestimated the number of people with disability that are included in the scope of Phase 1a rollout.

“The 1a group should have been at least 10 times higher than the government has calculated because it has excluded clinically vulnerable people with disability in mental health hospitals, boarding houses, jails, juvenile justice centres and disability justice centres.

“This means tens of thousands of clinically vulnerable people with disability are not being prioritised in the vaccine rollout.”

Ms Connor said the government has never revealed their modelling around the number of people with disability and people with chronic health conditions that should have been included in the 1b rollout and that it was likely to also be underestimated.

“Government has released no data around this cohort, nor any strategy to ensure people are able to be safely vaccinated. Of the 267,526 NDIS participants eligible under Phase 1b, they say that as at August 19, 26.2% had received two doses and 44.2% had received at least one dose.”

“However, NDIS participants only represent around 6% of the 4.4 million people with disability in Australia and so once again a huge number of people with disability who should be being prioritised in the vaccine rollout have potentially been missing out on early access to life-saving jabs.”

“The data that government is reporting against is extremely limited in its scope and not taking into account the millions of people across Australia whose disabilities and living conditions make them sitting ducks for contracting COVID. In the UK, 60% of the people who died were disabled people.”

“As well as priority access to vaccines, we need to ensure that we have accurate and transparent data and daily reporting. This includes daily reporting about the estimated 300,000-strong disability workforce, accurate mortality data and comprehensive reporting in the same manner that the aged care sector is being reported on.”

“Compared to other priority groups in 1a and 1b as well as the general population, vaccination rates for people with disability are way behind. It’s simply not good enough.”

Ms Connor said while PWDA welcomed specific initiatives being delivered by the government – such as the recent announcement that Pfizer vaccines are now available for 12 – 15 year old NDIS participants – it’s vital that the government communicate clear disability priority targets and start delivering a much more effective vaccination strategy for people with disability, their families and workers.

“In consultation with partners right across the disability sector, we’ve put together a comprehensive 11-point plan that outlines the kind of action that governments across Australia need to take to protect people with disability.

“We’ve been trying to get interest from the Federal Government and National Cabinet but so far it’s been crickets.”

The plan includes recommendations in relation to consultation, planning, implementation and reporting. Key recommendations include prioritising in-home vaccinations and priority booking services, maximising vaccine choice and increasing transparency around progress reporting.

“We call upon the Federal Government and National Cabinet to urgently respond to the Plan, reprioritise those most at risk and develop and communicate a clear vaccine rollout strategy and targets in conjunction with our sector.”

“Australians expect the lives of those who are most at risk to be protected. There can be no talk of reopening the country at 70% or 80% until every clinically vulnerable person in this country is safe.”

The 11-point plan and the disability sector’s open letter to government can be viewed on the PWDA website.


Media Contact

Michael Badorrek, PWDA Marketing & Communications Manager

michaelb@pwd.org.au | +61 408 682 867

Amanda Ellis, PWDA Senior Policy Officer

media@pwd.org.au | +61 2 9370 3100


Background

PWDA COVID-19 vaccines media releases: