Coronavirus vaccine rollout: Just 6.5 per cent of disability care residents have received vaccine

Health Minister Greg Hunt asserted it had always been the plan to vaccinate people with disabilities and aged care residents in stages. Picture: Getty Images
Health Minister Greg Hunt asserted it had always been the plan to vaccinate people with disabilities and aged care residents in stages. Picture: Getty Images

Just 6.5 per cent of residents at Australia's disability care facilities have received a COVID-19 vaccine, eight weeks on from the start of the trouble-plagued rollout, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.

Fronting the Senate's COVID-19 committee on Tuesday afternoon, federal Health Department officials conceded vaccination of the highly vulnerable cohort had been "much slower ... than we would have liked".

Officials revealed that aged care residents had been prioritised over disability care residents after initial delays in the rollout, due to their perceived higher risk.

Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy could not say exactly when the disability care population would be fully vaccinated, but said it would be "very soon" as the aged care vaccination program neared its conclusion.

But federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday morning appeared to contradict his officials' evidence, claiming it was always the plan to vaccinate the two groups in stages.

Among the most vulnerable members of the population, residents at disability care facilities were eligible to be vaccinated in the first phase of the vaccine rollout.

But two months in, Health Department associate secretary Caroline Edwards has revealed that just 1640 of the 25,000 people at disability care facilities had received a vaccine.

Fewer than 200 people had received a second dose, making them fully vaccinated, she told the committee. Those figures include some staff.

Vaccines had been administered at just 93 of the approximately 6000 disability care homes in Australia - a figure below 2 per cent - she said.

COVID-19 committee chair Senator Katy Gallagher. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

COVID-19 committee chair Senator Katy Gallagher. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Under questioning from committee chair Senator Katy Gallagher, Ms Edwards conceded that the disability care population had only been a "very minor part of the program to date".

She said advice recommending against the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for under-50s had made the program "much more difficult".

"Disability has been a much slower start than we would have liked," she said.

"The initial slow start in aged care required us to pivot to make sure we focused on them."

Speaking on RN Breakfast on Wednesday morning, Mr Hunt appeared to contradict Ms Edwards' evidence.

"I wouldn't say it was a pivot away," he said.

"There was an initial focus on the most vulnerable population, which we know was where the tragedies did occur."

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Mr Hunt's assertion that phase 1a rollout was always intended to be done in "stages" also contradicted evidence from his department head.

Professor Murphy confirmed at Tuesday's hearing that the original plan was to vaccinate aged care and disability care residents at the same time, but the "complexity" of aged care meant it had to be prioritised.

He said the risk was lower in disability care because residents' accommodation was typically smaller, and most residents were younger.

"We are very cognisant of the fact that we need to ramp up as aged care is coming to completion," he said.

Mr Hunt said the pace of the vaccine rollout to disability care homes would accelerate from next week.

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This story Hunt defends disability care vaccine rollout first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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