COVID-19 vaccine strategy and roll-out for people with disability ‘seriously deficient’
Today, The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability released the draft Commissioners’ Report of Public hearing 12: The experiences of people with disability, in the context of the Australian Government’s approach to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
In the draft Report, the Commissioners set out 17 findings and seven recommendations they propose to make about the Australian Government’s approach to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
The Royal Commission found that the framing of the ‘COVID-19 Vaccine roll-out strategy’ and the rollout of vaccines to people with disability had been an ‘abject failure’.
It acknowledges that the Department of Health confronted significant challenges in framing the Strategy and conducting the rollout. However, the evidence establishes that the Department of Health failed to meet those challenges in important respects.
The Disability Royal Commission describes the Department of Health’s framing of the Strategy and the conduct of the rollout as ‘seriously deficient’.
- The Australian Government should continue to prioritise access to vaccination for COVID-19 for people with disability in residential settings;
- The Australian Government should continue to prioritise access to vaccination for all disability support workers working in residential and other settings;
- The Australian Government should ensure all people with intellectual disability are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and support them gaining urgent access to the vaccine in all settings;
- The Australian Government should ensure that no state or territory significantly eases restrictions when the threshold of 70 per cent of the population 16 years of age and older being fully vaccinated is met;
- The Australian Government should prioritise consultations with people with disability (including people with intellectual disability), Disability Representative Organisations, peak advocacy bodies and the Advisory Committee on Health Emergency Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19) for People with Disability;
- The Australian Government should review the language it uses in all publications to describe or refer to people with disability and their circumstances; and
- The Australian Government should prioritise clear and accessible communications for people with disability and the disability sector generally concerning the vaccine rollout and the importance of vaccination for people with disability.
The Royal Commission is publishing this draft Report on the website for two reasons:
- The draft Report recounts developments since the public hearing took place on 17 May 2021. As these developments could not be the subject of evidence at the hearing, it is necessary to give the Australian Government an opportunity to identify and correct factual errors, if any, in that account; and
- The proposed recommendations should be made known as soon as practicable given the rapidly changing circumstances.
Once the Australian Government responds the Report will be finalised and presented to the Governor-General.
The draft Report acknowledges that the Australian Government Department of Health faced significant challenges during the ‘COVID-19 Vaccine roll-out strategy’ and in conducting the vaccination rollout.
The draft Report finds that the Department of Health failed to meet these challenges in important respects. Therefore, the conduct of the vaccine rollout, especially to people living in residential disability settings and disability support workers was ‘seriously deficient’.
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. This 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 2021, 6 weeks after the decision was made.
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 Royal Commission expresses 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.
For more information, please visit the Disability Royal Commission website.