The Victorian government says it has been forced to step in and fund targeted hubs after failing to get a response from the Commonwealth on low vaccination rates among people with a disability.
- More than 71 per cent of Victorian NDIS participants aged 16 and over have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine
- Victoria is launching 10 dedicated pop-up vaccination sites for people with disability
- From October 8, all of Victoria's state-run vaccination centres will allow people with disabilities to get vaccinated any time without a booking
The Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers, Luke Donnellan, on Thursday announced $5 million to boost vaccination rates among people living with a disability.
"We're launching 10 dedicated disability pop-ups in areas of concern and expanding our successful disability liaison service by 16 extra officers," Mr Donnellan said.
"This builds on a wide range of existing help available to help people living with a disability and their loved ones and carers to come forward and protect themselves, their family and their community."
From October 8, all of Victoria's state-run vaccination centres will also support people with disabilities to get vaccinated any time without a booking.
Mr Donnellan said they were unhappy with the rates of vaccinations among people with disabilities and more had to be done.
"As of September 30, more than 71 per cent of Victorian NDIS participants aged 16 and over had received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 67 per cent of the national average," he said.
"So we are doing slightly better, but it's simply not good enough."
Mr Donnellan said of the NDIS participants in Victoria living in disability residential accommodation, more than 80 per cent had received a first dose, at least.
But, he said, the vaccination rate for Victorians living with a disability was still lower than the general population, at 84.4 per cent.
According to the disability royal commission, Australian states and territories should not ease COVID restrictions until all people with disability have been given the opportunity to be fully vaccinated.
In its draft report, released late September, the inquiry described the vaccine rollout as "seriously deficient" and recommended the federal government "ensure people with disability and support workers are fully vaccinated before any easing of restrictions".
Mr Donnellan said he had written to the Commonwealth "three or four times" since December about vaccinations in the disability sector, but he had no success.
"It is a Commonwealth responsibility in terms of NDIS participants and in terms of those … working in residential services," he said.
"This is very much about us stepping in. We're not happy with the vaccine rates at the moment.
Mr Donnellan said Victoria needed to keep pushing "non-stop" to bring vaccination the rate up for those living with disabilities.
"It is just not acceptable where it is at the moment," he said.
"We can't open up when we have got people living with disabilities, with vulnerabilities, if they are not at a high rate of vaccination."
The 10 pop-up centres will be launched in October in local government areas of concern, including hotspots and pockets with low vaccination rates.
Mr Donnellan said the venture would build on other initiatives, including a dedicated new low-sensory site at La Trobe University.
He said Victoria would establish hearing, autism and other disability partners as vaccine ambassadors.
'Relieved' at being vaccinated
Margherita Coppolino, who lives with a disability and is also an advocate for the sector, said when COVID-19 hit last year, one of her greatest fears was one her friends would find her dead from the virus in her apartment.
"It was my worst nightmare," she said.
So the 61-year-old, who spoke at Victoria's daily COVID-19 press conference, said she overcame her phobia of needles and got vaccinated.
"And being safe — being safe where I could visit my loved ones and my friends, and still advocate in the work that I do."
Ms Coppolino said she highly recommend everybody "go out and get the jab".
"Once you do it, the sense of relief, the sense of feeling safe, is a feeling that I don't think I've ever felt for such a long time," she said.
'Important for people with disability to get vaccinated'
Martin Heng, a former travel writer who also spoke at the press conference, said it was everybody's social and moral obligation to get vaccinated.
"I was left a quadriplegic 10 years ago, 11 years ago, when I had an accident," he said.
"I think it is even more important for people with disability to get vaccinated because we are much more likely to be in contact with other people with disability."
Mr Heng is double vaccinated and is encouraging others— especially those with a disability — to also get the jab.
He said he was reliant on professional support workers for his daily care and they were in contact with other clients in a high-risk category.
A spokesperson for federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the disability community had remained a priority throughout the rollout, and any statement to the contrary was false.
"The government has implemented a range of measures, including visiting more than 4,000 sites as part of our in-reach program and the establishment of community-based vaccination hubs specifically for people with disability and workers in the sector," the spokesperson said.