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Our board wants disability ministers to prioritise COVID-19 access for people with disability

The board of People with Disability Australia (PWDA) has written to all state-and-territory disability ministers today urging them to ensure people with disability don’t miss out on COVID-19 injections if they want them.

PWDA President Samantha Connor said today that disabled people and their supporters in the various states and territories were experiencing difficulties accessing the vaccine.

She said it was time for disability ministers to ensure the most clinically vulnerable people in Australia were protected with COVID-19 shots.

“People with disability, including clinically vulnerable people and marginalised populations, must not miss out on COVID-19 vaccines during the country’s push to vaccinate frontline workers and Australians aged 50-plus,” Ms Connor said.

“People in group homes, and rural and remote areas are missing out on vaccines across the nation.

“We need to make sure people at risk of adverse outcomes from COVID-19 can be vaccinated, including our clinically vulnerable people younger than 50.”

PWDA’s board wrote to each state-and-territory disability minister calling for clinically vulnerable people to be protected by the various governments by outlining a seven-point action plan for the jurisdictions to implement.

The disabled people’s organisation, which has members across the country, outlined who it meant by clinically vulnerable people, and flagged what could be done to help them.

Among the advocacy organisation’s recommendations were to allow the vaccination of people in group or congregate settings, people in shared care, people with autism and psychosocial disability, and people from culturally and linguistically diverse groups, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.

Challenges in vaccine rollout are being experienced across the country, with Down Syndrome Australia reporting that people with Down syndrome in Western Australia are unable to access the Pfizer vaccine, despite it generally being possible in New South Wales and South Australia.

PWDA’s president called on disability ministers to identify the challenges being experienced in their state or territory.

“We welcome any efforts that states and territories have made to ensure that people with disability stay safe during COVID,” Ms Connor said.

“But we challenge disability ministers to identify any local challenges people might be facing in ensuring the vaccine rollout is available to clinically vulnerable people and marginalised populations.”

PWDA has invited disability ministers to line up a meeting with the organisation to focus on how we can ensure disabled people are included in state-and-territory emergency-preparedness planning.

About People with Disability Australia:

People with Disability Australia (PWDA) is a national disabled people’s organisation (DPO) that undertakes representation and advocacy to achieve the human rights of people with disability. Our primary membership is made up of people with disability and organisations mainly constituted by people with disability. We have a cross-disability focus – we represent the interests of people with all kinds of disability. PWDA is a non-profit, non-government organisation.

Our vision is of a socially just, accessible and inclusive community, in which the human rights, belonging, contribution, potential and diversity of all people with disability are recognised, respected and celebrated with pride. This vision underpins everything we do.

An open letter to state disability ministers

Dear Disability Minister

Re: Vaccine rollout for people with disability

My name is Samantha Connor and I am the President of People with Disability Australia, Australia’s peak national disability body. We are also part of DPO Australia. Our board members, who hold a vast range of expertise in the disability sector, have co-signed this document.

I am raising to voice the concerns of the disability community, their families and carers about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Different issues have been reported in different states – for example, in New South Wales and South Australia, young people with disability can generally access the Pfizer vaccine, whereas in Western Australia they cannot (source: Down Syndrome Australia).

There is also variable access to COVID vaccines for:

  • people living in regional and remote settings (reportedly only available in hospitals due to refrigeration requirements)

  • congregate settings (including group homes, hospitals, aged care facilities and residential aged care facilities) and

  • young people at risk of adverse outcomes if they contract COVID (young ‘clinically vulnerable’ populations).

Additional concerns include lack of available information about potential adverse effects for older people with disability from the Astra-Zeneca vaccine (members report that their trusted health professionals are also unable to provide reliable clinical advice) and other measures to identify clinically vulnerable people with disability, provide equitable access to information and ascertain priority protection for those who may be at clinical risk.

There is an anecdotally reported vaccine hesitancy for these populations.

Our recommendations around identifying ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ people with disability and ensuring they are protected include:

  1. the inclusion of all people with disability living in congregate (group) settings, including boarding houses, group homes, mental health hostels and hospitals, large congregate institutions, supported residential facilities and other group settings

  2. ensuring that people who are identified as ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ (see Shielded Patient List and methodology, NHS, UK[1]) are able to be vaccinated as a priority and receive accurate information about the risks for their diagnostic type

  3. including people at risk who live in the community and who are in receipt of shared care via casualised workforce settings

  4. ensuring that all vaccination hubs/facilities and information is accessible, including in easy English

  5. ensuring vaccination status of support workers is readily available via disability service providers so that disabled people can be assured they are receiving a safe service

  6. prioritising other highly at-risk groups including people with psychosocial disability, autism or intellectual disability who may be unable to read or follow health directions, people from Aboriginal backgrounds, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and people in justice settings

  7. provision of timely and accurate clinical guidance for people over the age of 50 who are at risk of experiencing blood clots/other complications (including via GP networks, accessible government messaging, disabled persons and family/disability representative organisations and other channels).

We would welcome your thoughts and advice about what your state and territory has done to ensure that people with disability stay safe and to also identify any challenges you might face in ensuring the rollout is available to clinically vulnerable people and marginalised populations.

Please feel free to arrange a meeting with our office to discuss a time to discuss any concerns you may have or the best way forward to include disabled people in your emergency preparedness planning.

Stay safe.

Sam Connor


People with Disability Australia

[1] Please note that diagnostic identification via the NDIS may not be accurate as comorbidities are not always collected – the scheme uses ‘primary disability’ and does not always collect data about complicating health or medical conditions or secondary or tertiary conditions.

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