Disability support workers (DSWs) are at greater risk of COVID-19 infection due to the nature of their work, which often involves close physical contact, sometimes with numerous people who are themselves at high risk. DSWs are also at risk of transmitting the virus to the people they support. Findings from the first two surveys of DSWs conducted in 2020, showed that they were supporting an average of five to six clients per week.
In Victoria’s second wave, there were COVID-19 outbreaks in over 60 group homes in Victoria. In recognition of their increased risk they were prioritised for access to personal protective equipment, and, in Victoria, there were initiatives to reduce worker mobility, introduction of paid pandemic leave, and a COVID-19 Disability Rapid Response Group (DRRG) was established.
Given their increased risk of becoming infected and transmitting COVID-19, DSWs have been prioritised for vaccine rollout. At the time of this report being published, DSWs working in group homes are in phase 1a, the highest priority group for vaccination; other DSWs are in 1b . It is noted that on 8th April 2021, the Prime Minister called for recommendations that AstraZeneca was reserved for people over 50 with Australians under 50 prioritised for Pfizer. This occurred after there was consensus internationally that the AstraZeneca vaccine was a likely cause of disease associated with low platelets and clotting, which was more common among younger people. However, concerns about AstraZeneca had been reported across the world for some weeks before the Prime Minister’s announcement.
Achieving high-levels of vaccination among workers is critical if people with disability are to be protected against COVID-19. To achieve high vaccine coverage among DSWs we need to know their vaccine intentions, who they trust to provide information, and concerns that they have.
Between March and April 2021, researchers from the University of Melbourne and UNSW Canberra conducted an online survey of over 350 disability support workers (DSWs) about their opinions and needs surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine.
This report presents findings from the survey of Disability Support Workers and their willingness and hesitancy towards the COVID-19 vaccine.