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Australians with disabilities could be placed at risk by plans to ease coronavirus restrictions in the coming months unless the rate of vaccination in the sector is significantly increased, advocates warn.
People with Disability Australia (PWDA), along with other disability organisations, say they are still waiting for a clear plan and targets to ensure priority groups are vaccinated – including people with disability and chronic medical conditions – before plans to open-up are implemented.
Only 38 per cent of all eligible National Disability Insurance Scheme participants nationwide have had two doses, with about 56.4 per cent having received one dose.
For NDIS participants in shared residential accommodation, 72.2 per cent have received one dose and 61.7 per cent have received two doses.
Medical evidence suggests people with disabilities are more likely to become severely unwell or die from COVID-19.
A plea from the peak organisation for people with disabilities follows a coalition of disability representative organisation’s 11-point plan last month, calling for disabled and other clinically vulnerable groups to be prioritised.
“We are waiting for a plan, for double-vaccination twin-targets, for access to and adequate supply of vaccines and for certainty that we will be safe,” PWDA president Samantha Connor said.
The sector has faced several challenges to large-scale vaccination, including differing age groups, capacity and functioning, and the additional time needed to ensure informed consent or appropriate decision-making for individuals before the vaccine is delivered.
More than 115,000 of the 450,000 NDIS participants have been vaccinated since early June, with all NDIS participants aged over 16 years and their carers made eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in June.
Opposition NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten said the Morrison government had “as little as eight weeks” to vaccinate all Australians living with disabilities.
He said Labor did not want any delays to the lockdowns ending, so health authorities must accelerate the vaccine rollout to people with disabilities.
“Australia is predicted to open as early as November as the nation’s two most populous states, NSW and Victoria, race to get their residents fully vaccinated,” Mr Shorten said.
“Australians living with disabilities are terrified they will get sick or die if they are not vaccinated by the time the nation reaches the Doherty Institute modelling targets the government is using to open the nation.”
Earlier this month, NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds expanded financial payments available to providers supporting participants in the scheme to attend COVID-19 vaccination appointments.
The initiative, which commenced in May for supported independent-living providers, has now been extended to include additional providers, to ensure that more NDIS participants can receive their vaccinations.
A spokeswoman for the minister said the vaccination rollout for NDIS participants and their workers were key priorities.
She said people with disabilities, their carers and support workers had access to more than 8200 vaccination channels, including Commonwealth and state clinics, their GPs and pharmacies.
“While the vaccination of people with disabilities poses distinct logistical complexities, we are seeing significant progress and the government’s priority is to ensure all NDIS participants, their carers and their support workers, who choose to get vaccinated, do so as soon as possible,” she said.
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Rob Harris is the national affairs editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in CanberraConnect via email.