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One of Australia’s largest disability service providers has opened its own COVID-19 vaccination hub in Melbourne amid concerns about delays in rolling out the vaccine in disability homes.
Scope Australia, which supports 1400 people with a disability living in 170 group homes in Victoria, opened a hub in Glenroy in Melbourne’s north on Monday to help people with a disability get vaccinated more quickly.
The hub is run in partnership with Aspen Medical – one of the private contractors the federal government hired to distribute the vaccines – as part of the Commonwealth COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Scope has set up its own vaccination hub in Glenroy.Credit:Jason South
Australia’s 6000 disability homes were initially to be among the first to receive vaccinations under phase 1a of the vaccine rollout but aged care was later prioritised due to the high number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
Senate Estimates last week heard that fewer than 2 per cent of people living in disability residential accommodation had been fully vaccinated.
“I was very concerned about the delay and have been advocating quite strongly for phase 1a to be implemented quickly in the disability sector,” said Scope CEO Dr Jennifer Fitzgerald.
Nearly six out of every 10 people who died with coronavirus in England last year were disabled, according to figures from the National Office for Statistics.
“I was very concerned that we’d enter another winter without having people vaccinated,” Dr Fitzgerald said.
She said Scope was a member of Ability First Australia, which had met with NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds two weeks ago and suggested vaccination hubs could complement the health teams administering vaccines in disability homes.
“This was an adjunct really to try and get the job done more quickly,” Dr Fitzgerald said.
Russell Liston getting his COVID-19 vaccination at the Scope hub.Credit:Jason South
She said the Glenroy hub would provide a calm and quiet environment to vaccinate residents who live in Scope homes, people who use Scope services and their carers and disability workers.
“We know that large open spaces just provide too much sensory overload for a lot of the people that we support so we’re very carefully controlling the flow of people into the centre,” she said.
“We’ll make sure that there are quiet spaces for withdrawal if someone needs some time out and space to themselves, and we’ve got skilled, trained disability support workers to assist.”
Eighty-three people were vaccinated on the first day.
Harry Green, who was among those vaccinated on Monday at the Scope hub, said the long lines and long wait times at the big vaccination hubs caused anxiety.
“This is a straightforward process which reduces my anxiety,” Mr Green said.
Last week Senator Reynolds announced disability vaccination hubs for National Disability Insurance Scheme participants, carers and disability workers in Thomastown and Dandenong.
From Tuesday, June 8 all NDIS participants aged 16 and over are eligible for the vaccine.
The federal government said as of June 6 about 16 per cent of NDIS participants had received at least one dose of the vaccine.
More than 7800 NDIS participants – about 28 per cent – living in residential disability accommodation and aged care settings who were eligible under phase 1a, had received at least one dose of the vaccine.
The Victorian government has also given workers in aged care and disability homes priority access at walk-in vaccination hubs.
Scope board director Tricia Malowney, who had polio when she was a baby, said she has a disability because vaccines weren’t available at the time. “As far as I’m concerned let’s all get vaccinated, it just really makes sense to get us all back to normal.”
Ms Malowney said she was disappointed by the slowness of the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and said people with disabilities were the “forgotten community”.
She said Scope shouldn’t have to be responsible for running vaccination centres, “but if that’s the only way they can keep clients safe, then let’s do it”. “I do take my hat off to the staff at Scope, they really are committed to equity for people with disabilities.”
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