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Fewer than 1,000 people with disability in Australia’s residential care facilities have been vaccinated, despite authorities saying the roll out would ramp up in late April.
With increasing concern among the disability community about the rollout, the disability royal commission is examining the federal government’s efforts at vaccinating people with a disability who live in residential care, and the disability support workforce.
Quoting the earliest figures the commission could obtain, Kate Eastman SC, the counsel assisting, said on Monday it was open to the royal commission to find the rollout had been an “abject failure” for people with disability living in residential care.
Eastman told the royal commission that from 6 May, 834 people with disability in residential care had been vaccinated.
Responding to Eastman’s comments, the federal health minister Greg Hunt then offered more up-to-date disability-sector specific data on the roll out at a press conference.
From midday on Monday, 999 disability care residents and 1,527 support workers had been vaccinated, he said.
Hunt said there had been now been a total of 192 vaccine visits to residential care facilities, but noted people with disability could also access the jab through their GP.
Brendan Murphy, the secretary of the health department, had previously said the roll out would ramp up for those in disability care from the week of 26 April. He also said at the time that Australia was still aiming to vaccinate its entire vulnerable population by mid-year.
But the commission heard there had been 746 people in disability residential care facilities vaccinated by 21 April, meaning since then only a further 253 people have gotten the jab.
Caroline Edwards, associate secretary at the department of health, told the commission the department now estimated there were approximately 26,000 living
While the total cohort figures are only estimates, it suggests a vaccination rate of less than 4%.
Edwards also conceded that earlier in the year the department had underestimated the number of people living in residential disability settings by 20,000.
Eastman put it to Edwards that it was a “failure”, a “gross underestimate” and “significant error”.
“Six thousand is a lot less than the approximately 26,000 that we now understand to live in supported accommodation of two or more people,” Edwards said.
She said she believed the 190,000 initially estimated for aged care and disability care combined was also underestimate, meaning the mistake had not been confined to the disability sector.
Hunt did not provide a state-by-state breakdown of the 999 people in residential care who had received one dose, but according to the 6 May figures, only six people with disability in residential care in South Australia have received a jab, while only eight in Tasmania had gotten their first dose.
Eastman noted the government had said the data did not include people with disability or support workers who have made their own arrangements.
“However, there is no data available to the royal commission that captures this group and the number of people with disability who have made their own arrangements,” she said.
Overall, more than three million Covid-19 vaccines had been administered across Australia and on Monday, and some adults under the age of 50 became eligible to receive their first dose.
The commission heard that among both aged care and disability care, 254,632 people had been vaccinated at 6 May.
While those living in aged care and disability care were both included in phase 1a of the rollout, health department officials told a Senate inquiry in April the government had decided to focus on those in aged care because they were at greater risk.
Eastman said on Monday the commission wanted to know “why people in disability residential care were deprioritised”.
Catherine McAlpine, chief executive at Inclusion Australia, said she agreed with comments from other advocates that the decision was “gobsmacking”.
“Our members have been sort of overrun with people calling or contacting them trying to find out when they might get the vaccination, or concerned that they haven’t heard anything,” she said.
She said vaccine hesitancy and misinformation was now becoming an issue in group homes.
Greg Tucker, a self-advocate who lives with an intellectual disability, said he would get the vaccine, but he noted there was a lack of specific information being provided to people like himself.
Uli Kaplan, who lives in a two-bedroom residential care unit, said he also wanted the vaccine but acknowledged he was “nervous”.
“Because there’s a lot of information coming thick and fast, very quickly, overwhelming, some of it is misinformation,” he said.
“Just get the vaccine to us,” Kaplan added. “Like, that’s it. If you want us to take it, give us the right information.”
Guardian Australia revealed last month that many disability care providers were being forced to circumvent the system and go to general practitioners to obtain vaccines for their residents, because commonwealth in-reach teams were simply not showing up.
David Moody, chief executive of industry peak body National Disability Services, said a census of the sector conducted last year found there were about 51,000 disability workers.
He said the federal government needed to ramp up education efforts specifically for people with disabilities and support workers.
Moody also said he was “pretty furious” when the government revealed in April it was now prioritising aged care residents over those in disability residential care.
The commission will also hear from the federal Department of Health and the New South Wales and Victorian governments on Monday.
Source: The Guardian
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