Disability care COVID vaccine failures slammed in new report

Health Minister Greg Hunt has previously defended the pace of the vaccine rollout in the disability sector. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Health Minister Greg Hunt has previously defended the pace of the vaccine rollout in the disability sector. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The Morrison government's vaccine rollout to disability care has been "seriously deficient", according to a scathing new report which found residents and advocates were misled as aged care homes were secretly prioritised in the first months of the program.

The Disability royal commission's report is damning in its assessment of the federal health department, finding it failed to properly consult with the disability community, wasn't transparent with critical information and lacked basic insight into the differences between aged care and disability care homes.

The report found the department has massively underestimated the number of people in disability care when designing its vaccine strategy, which had "significant consequences" for the rollout.

Among its recommendations, the royal commission has urged federal government to do what it can to ensure no state or territory significantly eases restrictions at 70 per cent vaccine coverage until all support workers are inoculated, and all people with a disability have had the opportunity to receive both doses.

It would be "grossly unfair, indeed unconscionable" if people with a disability hadn't had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated by the time 70 per cent target was hit, and lockdowns started to ease, the report found.

The royal commission convened a special hearing in May to probe the vaccination program for people with a disability, following shock revelations about the pace of the rollout for the vulnerable cohort and the reasons behind it.


Health department officials revealed at parliament's COVID-19 committee in late April that just 6.5 per cent of residents at disability care homes had received a dose, eight weeks into the rollout.

In a revelation which shocked and infuriated the disability sector, then health department associate secretary Caroline Edwards conceded that a decision had been made to prioritise vaccination in aged care over disability care, even though both were supposed to be treated equally in the first phase of the rollout.

The royal commission report published on Monday made similar findings to what the counsel assisting presented to the May 21 hearing.

The report acknowledged the challenges the health department faced in designing and delivering the rollout, but said it "failed to meet those challenges in important respects".

Where the counsel assisting had described the rollout as an "abject failure", the royal commission report found it was "seriously deficient".

It highlighted three "core" problems with the rollout: the health department's failure to consult with people with disability, support workers or advocacy groups; the lack of transparency in decision making, and a failure to provide critical information in an accessible form.

It said the government's failure to make public its decision to focus on aged care meant disability care residents and workers were for six weeks "misled" into believing they were still being prioritised.

The failure to communicate was a "serious departure" from the standards of transparency that the government should adhere to when make critical health and safety decisions, the report found.

The report found the department had made the decision without consulting its expert disability advisory committee.

The offices of Health Minister Greg Hunt and NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds have been contacted for comment.

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This story 'Seriously deficient': Disability care vaccine failures slammed in new report first appeared on The Canberra Times.


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