Many people with disability have a higher risk of developing severe illnesses from COVID-19. Ensuring high vaccination rates among residential disability workers will help protect people with disability.
Disability support workers providing services to people with disability in residential settings are in Phase 1a of the vaccine rollout. There have been no significant COVID-19 outbreaks in disability residential settings to date, and these settings also tend to be at lower risk of outbreaks than residential aged care facilities because they house fewer people, and just over half are aged under 50 years. However, many people living in disability residential settings have underlying health conditions and/or are unable to comply with protective behaviours, making them an at-risk group for COVID infection.
Other disability support workers, providing care for individuals with disability in private homes, are prioritised for vaccination in category 1b. Amongst the range of other channels, recent changes to GP remuneration to provide vaccinations for individuals with disability in their own homes provide an opportunity for further efforts to reach this group.
To date, many disability support workers have not had COVID-19 vaccinations. They need to be given priority access for vaccination appointments in accordance with their higher priority categorisation. Many have also found that communications about COVID-19 vaccinations have not yet addressed all their concerns. The best available Australian research on disability support workers’ attitudes to vaccination shows they still have some questions about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, and are concerned about reductions in working hours if they have any side effects after being vaccinated. National Disability Services, a peak disability provider group, considers that COVID-19 vaccination should eventually be mandated for the disability workforce, but only once issues with uptake and communications issues have been addressed.
In light of this, AHHPC recommends National Cabinet:
- strongly encourage all disability support workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect their own health and the health of the people for whom they are caring
- consider the evidence for mandatory vaccination for disability support workers in August 2021 following redoubled efforts to encourage uptake of COVID-19 vaccines , including by giving disability support workers priority for appointments and improving communications to the sector, and taking into account an updated assessment by AHPPC of COVID-19 risk in a range of disability residential settings
- in August 2021 consider making it mandatory for disability support workers who support NDIS participants in high risk disability residential settings, to have had at least their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by 31 October 2021.