Disability-specific vaccination hubs set to boost rollout

Morgan Liotta

4/06/2021 3:28:23 PM

But some believe the ‘number-one tool’ in health delivery – general practice – remains undervalued.

Man in wheelchair getting vaccinated
The disability sector has so far been plagued with a slow vaccine rollout.

The Federal Government has announced plans to set up dedicated vaccination hubs across Australia to provide additional ‘safe and accessible’ locations for National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants in phase 1a to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The announcement follows widespread criticism of the slow rollout across the disability sector, described as being ‘left behind’ and an ‘abject failure’, with GPs underutilised and fewer than 1000 NDIS participants vaccinated nationwide by mid-May.
Those figures have since ramped up in a bid to address the concerns, with Federal Minister for the NDIS Linda Reynolds saying the number of those being vaccinated is growing daily.
‘As of 1 June, almost 38,000 NDIS participants have received at least one dose of the vaccine – an increase of around 6600 since 25 May,’ she said.
‘More than 7350 NDIS participants in disability and residential accommodation settings, eligible under phase 1a, have had at least one dose of the vaccine – an increase of around 1100 since 25 May.’
But GP and disability advocate Dr James Best remains sceptical, having long-raised concerns that the underutilisation of GPs in this area is the norm.
‘The idea of doing vaccination hubs through the NDIS is a helpful one. However, it is not the answer by any means,’ he told newsGP.
‘I continue to be frustrated by the Government’s approach to not utilising the number-one tool in health delivery in Australia, which is general practice.’

The first disability-specific hub opened in Melbourne suburb Thomastown last week to accommodate the state grappling with its fourth COVID-19 lockdown.
Another hub is set to open in Melbourne next week, with plans for hubs in Newcastle and the New South Wales central coast, South Australia and Western Australia. The hubs are being developed in a partnership with Life Without Barriers.
In addition to eligible participants, NDIS disability workers and primary carers of people with disability will be able to access the hubs.
The Victorian Government recently announced a ‘five-day blitz’ of fast-tracking vaccinations for aged care and residential disability workers, who have been given priority access to walk-in vaccination hubs across the state from 2 June.
‘These [disability-specific] hubs allow providers, in partnership with the … Government and vaccine providers, to ensure some of the most vulnerable Australians and their support workers and carers can be vaccinated faster,’ Minister Reynolds said.
As the hubs open, local NDIS providers will be contacted to arrange access for participants, their carers and support workers.
‘I’m particularly appreciative of all disability providers who are so willing and also well-placed to understand the needs of individual participants to facilitate this access to community vaccination locations,’ Minister Reynolds said.
The hubs come after Minister Reynolds recently announced a support payment to assist people in disability residential accommodation, or ‘group homes’, to receive their vaccinations offsite.
‘The new national $150 support payment announced this week will help providers assist NDIS-supported independent living participants eligible within phase 1a to attend off-site vaccination locations, including the new hubs,’ she said.
‘The … payment recognises the significant role of providers and the complexity of getting participants vaccinated within a network of around 6000 individual residences.’
GP Dr Lara Roeske recently told newsGP that people living in residential and group homes should be prioritised in the vaccine rollout due to unique access issues and complexities.
‘For example, there will often be an inability to independently book an appointment – either online or via phone – or an inability to actually take public transport to a vaccine hub, or a community clinic or a hospital,’ she said. ‘Even more importantly, often people cannot understand consent, nor the risks or benefits of vaccination.’
Minister Reynolds said the disability-specific hubs will be set up to build on the existing supports available to people with disability, their carers and support workers, including GPs and in-reach services.
‘Disability providers and commercial vaccine providers are working collaboratively to ensure the numbers of people with disability and workers vaccinated continues to increase in the coming weeks,’ she said.
But as many GPs express frustration and concern about being underutilised in vaccinating priority populations, including those in the disability and aged care sectors, Dr Best believes GPs need to be armed with better opportunities to deliver what they are capable of.
‘The rollout to people with disability has been very poor and it’s good to see them making efforts in this direction,’ he said.
‘But, really, I just don’t understand why they can’t involve general practice in a meaningful way in getting the numbers up to an appropriate level for people with disability.’
The news of the disability-specific vaccination hubs comes with the announcement of plans for a purpose-built COVID-19 quarantine site in Melbourne. The Victoria Government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Government for the proposed build.
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