'Gobsmacked': Anger over disability care vaccine rollout

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

A peak disability advocacy group has reacted furiously to figures laying bare the glacial pace of vaccinations at care homes, as it slammed the federal government for quietly adjusting its strategy to prioritise aged care residents.

Vaccines had been administered at just 93 of the nation's 6000 homes, officials told the Senate's COVID-19 committee.

The government's vaccination strategy had disability care residents scheduled to receive their jabs at the same time as the other most vulnerable cohorts, including aged care residents and frontline health workers.

But Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy and associate secretary Caroline Edwards revealed on Tuesday that amid initial rollout delays a decision was made to "pivot" and focus on administering jabs to aged care residents, due to their perceived higher risk.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt appeared to contradict their evidence on Wednesday morning, insisting there had been no "pivot" and it had always intended to vaccinate the groups in stages.

Australian Federation of Disability Organisations chief executive Ross Joyce said he was "gobsmacked" that the government had effectively deprioritised vaccinating disability care residents, who he said were just as vulnerable as aged care residents.

Mr Joyce said in numerous meetings with Health Department officials he had never been told of the plan to break phase 1a into "sub-groups". Nor, he said, had the sector been consulted on whether or not people in disability care should be considered as at risk as aged care residents.

"I couldn't believe there were sub-sets [within phase 1a] - that came as a complete surprise to all of us across the sector," Mr Joyce said.

"That was not how it was articulated at the beginning or what we were led to believe.

"We're a bit gobsmacked that we have to find out [at a parliamentary committee] - that the department have made their own call about who was more vulnerable."

Describing the rollout as "appalling" and a "shambles", Mr Joyce implored the government to set a clear and firm timeframe for vaccinating all disability care residents.

The Morrison government had originally hoped that would be done by the end of March - a target which passed more than three weeks ago.

Asked at Tuesday's hearing when the disability care population would be inoculated, Professor Murphy said "very soon".

Mr Hunt told RN Breakfast the pace of the rollout would increase from next week.

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The evidence to the parliamentary committee marked the first times specific figures on disability care vaccinations had been revealed. The government's daily vaccination update combines the number of jabs administered at aged care and disability care homes.

That number was 183,530 as of Tuesday.

Labor's NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten said the disability community was being treated as an "afterthought by the Morrison government", while Greens disabilities spokesman Jordon Steele-John described the vaccination figures as "absolutely shameful".

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This story 'Gobsmacked': Anger over disability care vaccine rollout first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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