The federal government has been accused of “forgetting” Australians with disability after “absolutely shameful” revelations over vaccine rates among the vulnerable group.
A parliamentary inquiry on COVID-19 heard on Tuesday just 6.5 per cent of disabled Australians had received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, with health department officials conceding the rollout was going “much slower” than hoped.
Greens senator Jordon Steele-John on Wednesday described the revelation as “absolutely shameful” and demanded the government urgently prioritise vaccinating the cohort.
“It’s clear that the Morrison government has once again forgotten to include disabled people, and the people who support us, in their pandemic response,” he said.
“It is abundantly clear that the Morrison government do not care about the safety of disabled people.
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“They treated us like second-class citizens throughout their response to the pandemic, and they’re doing it again in their bungled vaccine rollout.”
The inquiry heard just 93 of 6000 group disability homes had received their first vaccines and just 1600 of roughly 25,000 residents in total.
A health department official conceded the disability care population had been a “very minor part” of the rollout.
But Health Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday insisted Australians with disability were “a very important part” of the federal government’s plans.
He said there were “a number of ways” for them to receive vaccines, whether they were homebound or unable to travel.
“It will come to them … this is always about working in stages as we move right through the country,” he told ABC radio.
Authorities confirmed on Tuesday just 749 of 2500 aged care facilities had received both vaccine doses.
But Mr Hunt claimed, with 177,000 aged care residents vaccinated, the government would be able to ramp up rates among the disabled.
“We’re in that strong position … to be able to use those same resources to assist our disability residents. That’s our priority,” Mr Hunt said.
Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy admitted on Tuesday there was a “significant amount of work” to do to vaccinate aged care workers, deemed a high-risk of transmitting the virus.
A survey on Wednesday revealed 85 per cent were yet to receive their first dose.
But Mr Hunt insisted the government had adapted to damaging revelations over the AstraZeneca vaccine, and supply issues in Europe, by focusing on its priorities.
“The key vulnerability risk was those in aged care homes,” he said.
“And now we move to the next part in terms of the workers, already 36,000 done. And then secondly, at the same time, to the disability care residents.”