Well before the ‘Eagle landed’ with the first pallet of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccines, National Disability Services (NDS) and its members were grappling with the question of whether vaccination for disability support workers should be mandatory.
The position reached by NDS, Australia’s peak body for disability support providers, is that – noting acceptable exemptions must be allowed – vaccination should be mandated, ensuring as far as possible that every measure is taken to safeguard people with disability and indeed the people who provide face to face supports.
“NDS member staff surveys and other correspondence have shown that voluntary take-up of the vaccine by disability support workers will be insufficient to afford the highest level of care for people with disability,” said NDS CEO David Moody.
Disability support workers are the front line of support services, interacting each day with one of Australia’s most vulnerable populations to the virus – a fact recognised by people with disability and their support workers being placed at the front of the vaccination queue.
“We realise that this will raise concerns around individual choice, but people with disability rely on these workers, and these workers need to be vaccinated to properly protect both themselves and the people with disability they support.”
With indications within the sector suggesting vaccine take-up will be alarmingly low, Moody argues nothing less than a fixed stance is responsible.
“A laissez-faire approach to vaccination in this sector is not responsible,” said Moody.
“It leaves people with disability dangerously exposed, and in fairness to our members, who have a responsibility for workplace safety as well as managing workforce supply issues, it leaves them exposed too.
“Mandating vaccines, taking account of relevant exemptions, is not new – precedents exist with the flu jab within the health and aged care sectors.”
NDS is seeking the support of all levels of government and Public Health Officers to implement the following measures now:
- In the case of the Federal Government, reconsider its stance of not mandating COVID-19 vaccines after each has been passed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
- If the Federal Government declines to reverse its decision, NDS is calling on state and territory governments to mandate TGA-approved vaccines via public health orders for the disability sector while providing for acceptable exemptions from having a vaccination.
- NDS would also like to see the setting out of protections and frameworks for those instances where workers decline to be vaccinated without having a valid exemption.