Improving outcomes for people with disability in COVID-19 - No one left behind

Leading experts from OzSAGE make recommendations to reduce risks for people with disability, as we learn to live with COVID-19.

Almost one in five Australians live with disability. International evidence shows us that people with disability are at much high risk of serious disease and death from COVID-19 due to their medical conditions, disadvantage and difficulties accessing quality health care.

Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability including the right to health (Article 25). Despite this, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation against People with disability found that the Commonwealth Government has failed to respond to the risks posed to people with disability during COVID-19 and has criticised the vaccine rollout among people with disability as ‘seriously deficient’. Despite being prioritised in Australia’s vaccine rollout, many people with disability have not been vaccinated, leaving them vulnerable to COVID-19 when society opens up.

In addition to urgently vaccinating people with disability, Vaccine-Plus strategies are needed to
reduce risks for people with disability from COVID-19. OzSAGE released an advice document with nine recommendations to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for people with disability.

These include recommendations to co-design prevention and control strategies, higher vaccination coverage targets for people with disability, vaccination of all disability workers, strategies to reduce transmission risk including safe indoor air and mask use, prioritisation of third doses for people with disability, better support for COVID-19 patients with disability, ensuring people with disability are not deprioritised in access to health care, and improved data quality and reporting.

Download the OzSAGE guidelines

Quotes:

As a person with a severe physical disability who is likely to die if I catch COVID, I need the government to take action to keep people with disabilities safe. Our vaccination rates should be ahead of the general population, but a lack of action has led to unacceptably low vaccination amongst disabled people and disability support workers. This needs to change; we can and must do better. We need the health system to respond to the complex health care needs of people with disability so that we can survive the pandemic and stop living in fear for our lives.

DR GEORGE TALEPOROS, MEMBER OF THE DISABILITY AND COVID-19 OZSAGE WORKING PARTY AND DISABILITY ADVOCATE

The current pandemic continues to be a major public health emergency for people with intellectual disability, for whom the gaps and barriers to access to health have been exposed and amplified. International outcomes data is stark, indicating that people with intellectual disability are at high risk of infection and poor outcomes from COVID-19. Approaches to prevention, vaccination, acute care and re-opening must reflect the urgency implied by this risk, and must comprise flexible solutions that overcome the barriers and biases experienced by those with intellectual disability and those who support them.

PROFESSOR JULIAN TROLLOR, ALSO A MEMBER OF THE WORKING PARTY AND A LEADING EXPERT ON THE HEALTH OF PEOPLE WITH INTELLECTUAL DISABILITY

Without urgent action Australia will fail to meet its human rights obligations for people with disability. Our recommendations can guide governments, health and disability services, health professionals, and communities on what they can do to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for people with disability and not leave people with disability behind.

PROFESSOR ANNE KAVANAGH, CHAIR OF WORKING PARTY AND A LEADING EXPERT ON THE HEALTH OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITY