Children and young people with disability are an ‘at-risk’ population in the COVID-19 pandemic. This was recognised by the Australian Government who prioritised people with disability for vaccination and allowed earlier access to the vaccine for young people aged 12-15. Despite being designated priorities in the vaccine strategy, the vaccine rollout has not progressed in these groups as many would have expected – as we have seen acknowledged in the recent DIsability Royal Commission (2021) report into vaccine rollout for people with disability. The National Plan outlines an intention to progressively re-open the country when vaccination thresholds are reached in the general population. But this situation potentially puts children and young people with disability at risk of severe disease from COVID-19 as vaccination rates in priority groups lag that of the general population. Time is of the essence in increasing vaccination rates in priority groups given that some individuals will be at risk as restrictions start to lift.
Children and young people with disability are an ‘at-risk’ population in the COVID-19 pandemic and as such were prioritised for vaccination.
Other countries have seen increasing numbers of children and young people being hospitalised as restrictions have been lifted, with those clinically vulnerable more likely to experience severe disease.
Despite prioritisation, levels of vaccinations among children and young people with disability lag those of the general population. Given the significant levels of COVID-19 in some areas this puts children and young people at risk of severe disease as restrictions start to be rolled back.
This report includes data from a survey undertaken by Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) and analysed by academics at the University of New South Wales and University of Melbourne.
The survey was open for one week and received 150 responses.
62% of survey respondents were parents/carers who reported experiencing difficulty in securing a vaccination for their child or children. Further, over 70% of respondents experienced difficulties in securing vaccinations.
People encountered issues with the booking system, knowing if they were eligible, proving eligibility and not being able to book with General Practitioners. Parents and caregivers had to do significant amounts of work to get their child vaccinated.
We find there is a gap in terms of specialist provision and particular challenges for people requiring sedation.
However, where specialist services could be found there were a number of positive experiences and some families found GPs who went the extra mile to vaccinate in a safe and appropriate way.
Vaccination systems were not designed with children and young people with disability in mind. This reinforces the message that this group have been forgotten during the pandemic, which potentially opens individuals up to greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
There is a need for urgent action to identify which children and young people with disability have not been vaccinated and to provide appropriate support to ensure that they can access a vaccination experience. Without this there is a risk that we will see significant levels of severe disease from COVID-19 with this group.
Children and Young People with Disability Australia 2021