Disability organisation Achieve Australia has independently launched its own COVID vaccination campaign for staff in a bid to ramp up commitment to keep their vulnerable clients safe.
Despite promising priority access to COVID vaccinations in early announcements, there has been no recent communication from governments about the plans to vaccinate people with disability and the people who support them in community. For families of people with disability this is unacceptable, as their loved ones are at greater risk of contracting the virus and suffering potentially life-threatening health complications if they do.
According to Jo-Anne Hewitt, Chief Executive of Achieve Australia, there is widespread frustration amongst staff and the disability sector that the government’s promise 18 months ago to arrange early mass vaccinations for those working with vulnerable people, including people with disability, has not materialised.
Ms Hewitt says the overall lack of community vaccination nationally means organisations like Achieve are still operating with a high level of precaution that directly impacts the quality of life for clients who are isolating to stay safe from COVID when there are high numbers of community transmission.
Achieve Australia, like many other disability service providers, has been strongly promoting staff vaccination for months. When it became clear the sector wasn’t having access prioritised, it decided to launch its own dedicated internal vaccination campaign.
“The government is not going to come to our worksites to get everybody vaccinated. We must be our own champions and take responsibility for getting vaccinated ourselves. Our campaign encourages all staff to get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect themselves, our clients, and our colleagues from COVID. Since we launched our internal campaign earlier this week, we have seen a significant increase in the number of staff vaccinated which is encouraging,” says Ms Hewitt.
Some clients who can travel outside their home have vaccination dates and appointments with doctors and at vaccination hubs, but this isn’t ideal for some of our most vulnerable clients who are unable to travel to a vaccination hub. This includes many people with disability and complex needs that Achieve Australia support at locations across Greater Sydney. Despite continued and focussed efforts to secure onsite vaccination for these people, they remain unvaccinated.
Gabrielle Goodenough and her sister Carmen are particularly concerned for the health and social impact delays in vaccinating people with disability will have. Their brother Luciano lives in supported independent living and he struggles to understand why his life has been so impacted over the past 18 months of the pandemic.
Mrs Goodenough said they put faith in governments to make decisions about the whole community so were initially pleased to see people with disability were categorised as the most vulnerable, and therefore a priority.
“We trusted the government to look after our brother but clearly, we were wrong. We do not understand how they could organise medical personnel to go into nursing homes and vaccinate the clients there but have let the disability sector down so badly,” says Ms Goodenough.
“Our brother and others he lives with (20 people on the property) are still not vaccinated, despite all the false promises the government have made. My brother doesn’t understand ‘social distancing’. He and his housemates need the comfort and security of being vaccinated in the comfort of their own homes surrounded by the staff who know and care for them. This is a massive failure of government to not have looked after our people. How could they be so cruel?” says Mrs Goodenough.
Families like Luciano’s and organisations like Achieve Australia are committed to ensuring people with disability receive access to vaccinations, but they say the broader community also that needs better access.
“We encourage the community to continue to share their concerns relating to the COVID vaccination rollout with their local state and federal member, and to make sure they register for vaccination. To protect our most vulnerable we need the community at large to get vaccinated,” says Ms Hewitt.