The Disability Royal Commission has released a draft report calling the vaccine rollout for peoples living with disability as “seriously deficient”.

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability released the draft report which details 17 findings and 7 recommendations.

It described the rollout as “seriously deficient”, particularly for people within residential disability settings and disability support workers.

Whilst the report recognises the issues that faced the Department of Health in both devising and implementing the rollout strategy, it finds that in meeting and attempting to work through these problems the Department of Health failed.

The report found that the key decision in March 2021 to prioritise Aged Care over Residential Disability services was made without consultation with the disability sector.

It was only announced 6 weeks after the decision was made on 20 April 2021 when evidence was given to the Senate Select Standing Committee on COVID-19.

Three pressing failings of the rollout for people with disabilities were identified as a lack of consultation, a lack of transparency and a lack of provision of clear and easily comprehensible information to people with disabilities; which contributed to hesitancy and fear.

Damian Griffis, CEO of the First Peoples Disability Network Australia, spoke to the National Indigenous Times on the Royal Commission’s report and the Government’s management of vaccines for Australia’s Indigenous community living with disabilities.

“One of our big concerns is that the Vaccine rollout has been using NDIS participants to identify vaccination rates of disabled people. However, there remain very low rates of participation in the NDIS of First Peoples,” he said.

“As a result, measuring vaccination rates through the NDIS is unreliable, particularly with First Peoples.”

Griffis expressed his organisation’s additional concerns about access to support during lockdown, and access to fair and equitable treatment, including the ICU.

“There has been a lack of proper strategy in terms of engaging First Peoples,” he concluded.

When questioned on the report, a spokesperson for the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, defended the department’s actions.

“Australia has the second lowest per capita loss of life this year among the 38 OECD countries. This protection has been even stronger in disability where both cases and lives lost among disability participants are significantly lower than the national average,” they said.

“As at 27 September 2021, the vaccination rate for NDIS participants 16 years and over and living in shared accommodation is 14 per cent higher at 66 per cent than that of the National average at 52 per cent.”

The spokesperson said that the Government “continually considers all issues raised during the Royal Commission”.

They said recommendations and findings will be formally considered once the report is finalised and delivered to the Governor-General.

They emphasised that the report is currently a draft and had “not been provided to the Government in the usual way”.

Minister Hunt was personally questioned in a press conference on this issue.

His response again defended his department and its performance in protecting people with disabilities.

“Our rate of cases and our rate of loss of life is one of the lowest in the world. But in disability, they’re both stronger and safer than the national average – both cases and lives lost in disability are at a lower rate than the Australian average,” he said.

“So, we’ve actually been able to protect those in disability even more than we’ve been able to protect Australia’s overall rate.”

Hunt further touted the Government’s passion for this issue and vowed to continue to support families affected by disability to give them the confidence to get vaccinated.

The draft Report will now be sent to the Federal Government. Once it responds, the report will be finalised and presented to the Governor-General.

By Aaron Bloch