Paralympic favourite Kurt Fearnley has made an impassioned plea for Australians who have yet to get their COVID vaccine to do so, in a late push to protect the country's most vulnerable.
- Kurt Fearnley's plea comes shortly after the release of the disability royal commission's draft report
- The report recommended national COVID restrictions only be eased once all people with disability were fully vaccinated
- Fearnley says it is imperative people talk to those who are vaccine hesitant
The wheelchair racer with 13 Paralympic medals to his name has made the plea a few days after the release of the disability royal commission's draft report, which has described Australia's vaccine rollout as "seriously deficient".
The report on Monday recommended the federal government ensure all people with disability and their support workers were fully vaccinated before any easing of restrictions.
The report said it would be "grossly unfair" if people with disability who had not been given the opportunity to be fully vaccinated would be denied freedoms available to other fully vaccinated people, when the 70 per cent threshold was reached.
Fearnley said reading the report was tough, and showed that those who were vulnerable in the community were headed towards a "very, very nervous time".
"I'm reading all of these things and you just get overwhelmed with what we can do right now to try and rectify this," he told the ABC News Channel.
"And I got to this Disability Champions part where it's like, 'We need people with disabilities to be talking about vaccination'.
"But … I have to do something. I have to talk about these coming weeks and talk about just encouraging people with disabilities — their workers, their advocates — to do whatever they can do to get vaccinated.
"I know that it's hard to get there, and people with disabilities are often more isolated than anyone. They are often at the whim of the support workers around them to get to that vaccination hub.
"There are issues with accessibility for those who have intellectual disability as well as those with physical disability.
"But I think that I'm going to spend my next few weeks just talking about and encouraging everyone to get vaccinated."
The University of Melbourne's Professor Anne Kavanagh, one of the witnesses at the disability royal commission's hearing in May, said all models indicated a "significant number of deaths" in the disability community if the country opened up "too much" at 70 per cent double vaccinated.
Professor Kavanagh cited data from the UK in 2020 that showed 60 per cent of people who died of coronavirus had a disability.
Fearnley said once the community started opening up again, the pressures of COVID would not be shared equally.
"COVID will find its way into the community of those who are vulnerable," he said.
"We need our support workers, as many people as possible to get in there and get vaccinated, because that will reduce the transmission and potentially not make it to my community.
"And my community — those who are vulnerable — your nan, those who are elderly — those are the people that are going to bear the brunt of COVID when we open up."
He said regardless of what party a person voted for, it was up to Australians to roll up their sleeves for the good of the greater community.
"You can be vaccine-hesitant. You can be a little bit worried about it. And you can still get vaccinated," he said.
"And we, as a community — the Australian community — one of the things that I hope that I hold dear to us is that we look after people. We look after those who are vulnerable, those who can't get that vaccination.
"You can be anti-government and protesting on the streets, and you can still go and get vaccinated, because you recognise the impact that you have with those who can't do it.
"Even the individuals with disabilities who are vaccinated themselves — they are still more likely to receive the complications of COVID when we open up.
"Don't wait for mandates. Don't wait to be told that you have to do it. Do it because you recognise that you play a part in a community — the community that we love.
"We've got a time limit now, and we need you to work as hard as you possibly can to reduce the transmission that will eventually end up in my community."
Fearnley pleads with vaccine-hesitant to reconsider their stance
When asked if there were people outside the disability sector who could help, Fearnley said everyone can contribute to reducing transmission in Australia.
"If you are a tradie, a hairdresser, if you are a cook — whatever it is that you do in our community — you can play that part about reducing the transmission," he said.
"You may even rally against this vaccine and say that it doesn't stop you getting COVID. [But] it does reduce the transmission. It does play a part in taking you out of that chain that'll eventually end up in those who are vulnerable.
"If you don't want to do it, I would ask you, beg you, plead you to reconsider. And disability isn't hidden away, no matter what job you take in our community — people with disabilities, we're in there somewhere.
"And again for me, what I love about this country — I feel like I have been spoilt because I have been given so many options that so many people have looked after me in my career and in my life — well, now we have a condensed version to prove that right, that we as a community will rally over these coming weeks.
"And it's not just New South Wales or Victoria that needs to do it — COVID will get into our community in every single state and territory, and the burden of COVID that will be borne when it gets there will be people with disabilities. It will be the vulnerable. It will be the isolated.
"So no matter how fit and healthy you are, play a part in reducing the chance that it gets there."