(Image: AAP/ Stefan Postles)

For most people, not having the COVID-19 jab is annoying. For hospitality venue owners and employees, it’s infuriating. But for people with disabilities, it’s life-changing. With COVID-19 clusters appearing every few months, many are waiting for the vaccine to resume normal living for fear of catching a life-threatening virus.

Yet in the seven weeks since the first phase of the rollout began, with the federal government in charge of vaccinating aged and disability care residents, just 112,830 of the 190,000 residents have been given the jab, with confusion and poor information causing stress among the disability community. 

By now, according to the government’s rollout schedule, they should all have been vaccinated.

No new information

CEO of National Disability Services David Moody told Crikey that while he was able to contact members of the Department of Social Services (DSS) with questions, no new information had been provided in weeks. 

“In part of Australia, the rollout doesn’t seem to have commenced and the absence of new information coming from the government means that members in our industry, and therefore their clients, don’t know when they’re going to get the vaccine, where they’re going to get the vaccine or how it’s going to be delivered,” he said. 

Moody said some residents were afraid they had missed out, as phase 1B of the rollout began this week, inoculating people aged over 70, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 55, adults with an underlying medical condition or significant disability, and critical and high-risk workers. 

“The fact that we’re getting this information means we need further clarifying information coming out from the federal government about where we’re at in the process,” Moody said.

“[Disability service providers’] responsibility is to support people with disabilities to live their lives, and their inability to support those who wish to have the vaccine is causing great frustration and distress.” 

Where’d the cash go? 

The lack of information begs the question: Where did the $23.9 million spent on Australia’s vaccination information campaign go? 

Manager of Physical Disability Australia Simon Burchill told Crikey he and his wife got the vaccine last week by searching for a GP online then calling to make a booking.  

“Ideally, there’d be a public information campaign saying, ‘you need to do this’… on mainstream media,” he said. 

The COVID-19 vaccination campaign has seen colourful videos explaining how the vaccine works released online, with information from medical experts in a range of languages released almost daily. But none of the animations explain how to book an appointment with a doctor — simply advising viewers to look online to find out “when it’s their turn”. 

The last information Burchill received from the DSS was nearly three weeks ago, containing links to government web pages. He said the DSS’ Disability Support Services Committee, made up of advocacy organisations, hadn’t met this year to discuss the vaccine. 

A spokesperson for the DSS told Crikey Phase 1a and 1b of the rollout are both currently underway and that the Department of Health or their contractors were directly contacting disability residential accommodation providers to arrange visits by vaccination teams, though those eligible could also get a vaccination through a GP or pharmacist. The spokesperson wouldn’t say when the DSS’ Disability Support Services Committee last met.