Coasties Still Struggling to Get Vaccinated

Coasties Still Struggling to Get Vaccinated Main Image

26 August 2021

I'm sure local people on the Central Coast, stuck at home, waiting to be vaccinated and teaching their kids from home, would have welcomed the economics tutorial from the minister. At a time when 15 million Australians are in lockdown and people are losing their jobs, the minister is lecturing them about the golden rules. Businesses are hitting the wall, schoolkids are struggling to learn from home and many people, including some of the most vulnerable, are struggling to be vaccinated. And why? It's because of the failure of the vaccine rollout and quarantine. As a pharmacist and the local MP, I am deeply concerned.

Australians living with a disability are a high-priority group and were supposed to be fully vaccinated by Easter. It's now the end of August, and just over 28 per cent of NDIS participants aged 16 or older have been fully vaccinated. Of the 27,000 people with a disability, identified in the government's highest priority group, slightly more than half have been fully vaccinated and 67 per cent have been given one dose. It's not good enough. It's unfair and it's unsafe. This week the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Senator Reynolds, would not guarantee that everyone with a disability would be vaccinated by the time we reach the 70 to 80 per cent vaccination target, leaving people with a disability, some of whom are the most vulnerable Australians, as potential cases or carriers.

Why hasn't the Morrison government done more to protect people with a disability, including in the electorate I represent on the Central Coast of New South Wales? On 4 June, the minister for the NDIS, Minister Reynolds, announced a disability vaccination hub would be set up on the Central Coast that same month, but three months later there's still no hub. Then on Tuesday the Minister for Health and Aged Care told parliament he now expects two hubs on the coast to open in September. While this is welcome news, the government should have acted when they said they would and set up a disability vaccination hub in my electorate back in June. Vulnerable people in my community and across Australia deserve better.

First Nations Australians have also been left behind by the Morrison government during this pandemic. Vaccination rates among First Nations communities are critically low. Only 18 per cent of First Nations Australians have been fully vaccinated. This number should be much higher this far into the rollout. And now we're seeing the situation in western New South Wales getting worse. The Prime Minister said First Nations Australians would be a priority for vaccines. They were supposed to be at front of the queue, but they're not. They are being left behind, at risk and exposed.

There are so many vulnerable Australians who are desperate to get vaccinated, but they can't because the government didn't secure enough supply for all Australians soon enough. Every day my office is overwhelmed by desperate people wanting to be vaccinated, but they can't get an appointment. What do I tell Bobby, who is living with frontotemporal dementia, when she tells me she misses hugging her grandchildren because we're in lockdown? What do I tell Jennifer, who is struggling to get by, as her work is impacted by COVID, at the same time as she is teaching her kids from home, when she asks me, 'When will school be back?' What do I tell Lisa, who had to shut her business with two hours notice nine weeks ago, when we have been told today we will be in lockdown until 10 September? What do I tell Megan, a local schoolteacher who can't get a vaccine, after we've had outbreaks in two local schools? What do I tell Brad, a local GP, who tells me general practice is in crisis, or Sandy, a community pharmacist, who is having to dispel misinformation on a daily basis, who tells me, 'It's too little too late, and the damage is done'? How can the PM justify pharmacists not being properly paid for the work they're doing during the pandemic? What do I tell my niece Marija, who's two and who's lived in the pandemic most of her life, when she speaks to me on Facetime and asks, 'Are you still in lockdown, Aunty Emma?' What do I say to local aged-care workers who were turned away from the vaccine hub and told they were the federal government's responsibility?

The Prime Minister says he's got a national plan—that it's a careful plan; it's the right plan. Well, tell that to the people in my community. Spreadsheets and phases, with missed deadlines and redirected vaccines don't make a plan, and they've left my community exposed and at risk.

Right now, fewer than one-third of Australians are fully vaccinated, and half of the country is in lockdown, including the Central Coast. We've been in lockdown for the past nine weeks, and we've just been told today we have to spend another two weeks, at least, in lockdown. We keep hearing the way out is through vaccination, but how can we get vaccinated when there is not enough supply to go around? This government failed to secure enough vaccines for all Australians from the beginning. This government has left our community at risk and exposed. This Prime Minister won't accept responsibility for anything. It's always someone else's fault—it's the state premiers—and when he finally acts, it is always a case of too little, too late, leaving communities like mine overlooked, at risk and vulnerable.

The Prime Minister said the vaccine rollout isn't a race, but it is. Clearly, with this government it's always too little, too late.