More than 25,000 Australians living in residential disability care, and those who care and provide crucial services for them, appear to have fallen off the government’s vaccine schedule.
After early consultation and plans to engage the sector were shown last week to have not been followed up by contact with the network of disability support providers, yesterday the Health Department confirmed the grim failure.
On February 15, Scott Morrison said the first priority phase of the rollout, category 1A — which includes disability residents and staff — would be completed within six weeks. On February 18, Health Minister Greg Hunt repeated that phase 1A would be completed in six weeks: “Everyone will be covered over the course of six weeks.”
Bear in mind this timetable was well after the government learnt that Europe was restricting exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine — which caused it to downgrade its second rollout schedule to a third one in which 1.8 million vaccinations would be delivered by the end of March. As of yesterday, 1.65 million vaccinations had been given, an average of about 52,000 a day over the past week.
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Yesterday the Health Department admitted to the Senate COVID-19 inquiry that just 192 disability residents or staff had been fully vaccinated. Another 1448 had had their first shot, meaning the government had met 6.6% of its target three weeks after it was supposed to have been completed.
“It’s been a very minor part of our program to date,” one official told the committee, and then, remarkably, disputed that the government had ever given any commitment about a six week deadline.
“The original intention was to have that done by the end of March … to have 1A done in six weeks, wasn’t it?” chair Katy Gallagher asked.
“I don’t recall that as having been…” said the official, backed by health secretary Brendan Murphy, before Murphy eventually admitted that yes, the intention had been to complete vaccinations for disability residents within the same six week timeframe as aged care residents, but there had been too much “complexity”.
While the residential disability sector operates with a large number of facilities and smaller numbers of residents in each facility than aged care, this was well known in the planning stages of the rollout; residential care providers were pleased with the level of engagement and consultation from the Health Department.
That has turned into dismay.
The government, meanwhile, offered another announcement on the rollout, saying it had appointed Commodore Eric Young to a newly created position in its “vaccine operation centre”.
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