‘Abject failure’: Only six people in SA residential disability care vaccinated

Just six people in residential disability care and four disability support workers in South Australia have received a COVID-19 vaccine as part of the federal government’s rollout as of May 6, an inquiry has been told.

May 17, 2021, updated May 17, 2021
(AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

(AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

The figures, which were correct as of May 6, were provided by the federal Health Department to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

The Commonwealth designated disability care residents and staff for the first phase of the vaccine rollout along with aged care facilities, frontline health and quarantine workers.

However, the new figures show that nationally, just 834 disability care residents have been vaccinated by the Commonwealth as of May 6, despite more than 2.5 million Australians having received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose by this point.

In South Australia, just six people in residential disability care had been vaccinated, of which only two have received a second dose.

The commissioners, sitting today in Sydney, also heard that just four South Australian disability support workers had received a COVID-19 vaccine by May 6, at a time when more than 189,000 people in South Australia had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, including 18,693 people in Commonwealth aged care facilities.

Senior Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission Kate Eastman noted South Australia first in her state-by-state breakdown of the figures.

“Commissioners, based on the data alone, it may be open to you to find that the Australian government’s rollout of vaccines to people with disabilities in residential care … has been an abject failure,” Eastman told the hearing.

“However, we accept that you will need to hear from the Australian government as to its explanation as to why such a small number of people with disability and their support workers in residential care have been vaccinated before you can make a finding of that kind.”

The commission heard that 1098 disability support workers had been vaccinated nationally.

Eastman noted that the federal government says the figures did not include disability care residents and support workers who had made their own arrangements to get vaccinated with a GPs or at a state-run health clinic.

“The Commonwealth Department of Health advises that these numbers do not include people with a disability or support workers who have made their own arrangements,” she said.

“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.”

InDaily contacted SA Health for a breakdown of how many disability care residents and support workers had been vaccinated at state-run clinics.

Eastman said the federal government chose to prioritise aged care residents over disability care facilities, after the rollout was thrown into chaos by health experts advising against using the AstraZeneca vaccine for those aged over 50.

“You are likely to hear from the Australian government that they relied on expert health advice to identifying the priority groups for the rollout,” she said.

“If that is so, then there are early signs that people with disability in residential care, may be left behind, and that people with disability generally may have been overlooked.”

There are around 23,000 Australians living in residential disability care, with the figures provided to the inquiry indicating just four per cent of this cohort has been vaccinated.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said as of today, 999 disability care residents and 1527 support workers have been vaccinated – meaning just 165 residents have been vaccinated in the last 11 days.

Hunt told reporters today that the Department of Health has made 172 “first visits” to disability care facilities for vaccinations.

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