CALL TO ACTION: Improving COVID-19 Vaccination and pandemic preparedness for people with disability - Statement #4
State and Federal governments need to act now to ramp up vaccination among people with disability, improve pandemic preparedness, and implement best practice responses to outbreaks in disability group homes.
COVID-19 vaccination is the cornerstone of the global strategy to control the COVID-19 pandemic. In January 2021, the Commonwealth government prioritised access to COVID-19 vaccines for people with disability living in group homes and people with chronic physical and mental health conditions – which many people with disability have. They also prioritised access to disability support workers.
People with disability living in groups homes, and the workers who support them, were prioritised in Phase 1a – the highest priority group. There have been many reports of people with disability having difficulty accessing the vaccine, particularly those in group homes. While data on vaccination seems to be available for people with disability and workers, it is rarely publicly reported. On July 22, the Australian Financial Review reported that 31% of NDIS participants had had just one vaccine dose and half of those living in disability residential settings had had one dose. A much lower proportion have been fully vaccinated – just 19% of residents as of July 1. On July 8, Minister Reynolds reported 36% of workers had received one dose of the vaccine.
The Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, has previously drawn attention to the risk of COVID-19 among people with disability and the potential for outbreaks in congregate settings such as group homes, something that was realised in Victoria’s second wave when outbreaks were reported in more than 50 group homes. Our qualitative research with services and workers following services second wave revealed worrying problems including lack of training and confidence in the use of Personal Protective Equipment with online training being insufficient; poor communications between government, services, workers and residents; lack of understanding of disability residential settings with aged-care responses being applied; and, significant impacts on the mental health of residents.
Our survey of disability support workers conducted in September and October in 2020 found that only half of workers felt comfortable supporting someone who had COVID-19 and many wanting more training including hands on training. Our work has also revealed problems with vaccine hesitancy among disability support workers related to concerns about safety and efficacy and relatively low levels of understanding of the importance of vaccination in preventing COVID-19 infection and disease. We highlighted the importance of tailored, co-designed strategies to improve communications to increase vaccine uptake among people with disability and disability support workers. This hasn’t happened.
We’d hoped that further outbreaks in group homes would be averted with widespread vaccination of people with disability and workers, yet our fears that this would not be the case have been realised with COVID-19 infections reported among partially vaccinated residents and workers at a group home in Sydney.
Kavanagh A, Dickinson H, Llewellyn G & Carey G (2021). Improving vaccination and pandemic preparedness for people with disability in Australia - CRE-DH Position paper #4, 23 July 2021. Melbourne: The University of Melbourne.
Statement of Concern # 4 from the CRE-DH on COVID-19 and Disability sector, 23 July 2021.
Further information on COVID-19 and Disability