Advocates ‘terrified’ one group will left behind when NSW reopens

Catie McLeodNCA NewsWire
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Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

Disability advocates say they are terrified some of NSW’s most vulnerable people will be at risk when the state begins reopening next month, unless the vaccination rollout is urgently ramped up.

NSW authorities on Friday confirmed an unvaccinated woman in her 20s had died after becoming infected with Covid-19 while receiving care from the Life Without Barriers disability provider in Wyong on the Central Coast.

People with disabilities were meant to be prioritised at the beginning of the Commonwealth vaccine roll out and it isn’t clear why the young woman who died hadn’t been inoculated before her death in Gosford Hospital.

She and another woman in her 20s, who health authorities said had underlying medical conditions, were among 12 deaths reported on Friday.

The disparity between vaccination rates in NDIS participants and the general population has sparked fears that people with disabilities will be left behind when the state reaches a 70 per cent double dose average and aims to lift lockdown in mid-October.

The most up-to-date figures from the federal government show that across Australia, 57.6 per cent of all eligible NDIS participants aged over 16 have had at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while 38.8 per cent have had two doses.

Premier Presser
Camera IconNSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is planning to begin reopening locked down parts of the state next month. NCA NewsWire/Jeremy Piper Credit: News Corp Australia

Peak advocacy body People With Disability Australia believes the government has grossly underestimated the number of people with disabilities, as well as support workers, who should have been included in the earliest stages of the rollout.

PWDA president Samantha Connor said the Wyong woman who died should have been prioritised in the earliest phase of the vaccine rollout.

“Most of my day has been spent with other disabled people including some of our board members who are in NSW who cannot believe that the (vaccination) numbers are so low that we’re still in danger and that government is proposing to open up,” she told NCA NewsWire.

“I think for NSW, it’s also a case of consulting right now with the disability sector and speaking to leaders in the sector.

“There are people who are working in other states who have been working very hard to make sure people are safe.”

She said people were struggling with barriers to accessing vaccines, including issues with the booking system and the lack of supply in certain areas.

“In some cases, it’s been people who are living in group homes or areas where they haven’t had much support to be able to access the vaccine.”

NSW health officials said the woman who died had been living in a group home run by Life Without Barriers, where she had contracted the virus.

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Camera IconNSW has now surpassed having 50 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated. NCA NewsWire/Jeremy Piper Credit: News Corp Australia

Life Without Barriers later said the woman lived by herself and received supports from them.

“We are deeply saddened about the death of a young woman we provide support to in NSW from Covid-19,” a spokeswoman said.

“We share our sincere condolences to her family and friends at their considerable loss. Our priority is offering our support and care to her families, and providing any assistance they need at this difficult time.

“People who are supported by Life Without Barriers on the Central Coast have been offered the vaccine, and most people who chose to be vaccinated, preferred to receive the vaccine in their homes.”

Disability Advocacy NSW chief executive Mark Grierson said he’d like to see more innovative efforts to roll out vaccines including offering more jabs at home and helping people get to vaccination centres.

“What we're hearing is it’s much harder for people with disabilities to get it and they’re very disappointed that they’re not being prioritised in practice,” he said.

“I think they really hate that term ‘underlying health conditions’ because it means nearly everyone with a disability is at risk.”

NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds issued a statement on Tuesday saying additional measures were now place to assist scheme participants and their support workers and families.

“We have implemented a number of measures to provide additional support for NDIS participants and their support workers to get vaccinated in a way that works for them,” Ms Reynolds said.

Originally published as Advocates ‘terrified’ one group will left behind when NSW reopens

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