Department of Health Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy has defended making nursing home residents a higher coronavirus vaccination priority than people living in disability care.
A royal commission draft report found the department’s decision to prioritise aged care residents in March slowed down the rollout in residential disability.
Murphy told the Senate’s coronavirus committee on Tuesday disability residents remained in the highest priority group.
“We did not stop providing in-reach services to residential disability, but we did give a greater priority to residential aged care when the complexity of the aged care rollout was appreciated,” he said.
“That has probably saved over 1000 lives in aged care because all of our advice was that was the single highest-risk population.”
Murphy insisted disability residents were not “deprioritised” and pointed to death rates being lower than the general community as a mark of success.
But he conceded the shift in focus to aged care did increase the pace of vaccinations in that sector.
“Certainly the rate of residential disability care vaccination was significantly slower at that time because of the clear need to get the residential aged care population vaccinated to save the lives that we have done.”
Labor senator Kristina Keneally said the disability community felt as though they weren’t consulted about the decision.
Murphy said officials were now meeting weekly with representatives from the disability sector.
“We have had active and genuine consultation,” he said.
“There will always be some people who feel it didn’t meet their needs.”
But the health secretary refused to directly address findings from the royal commission’s draft report because it has not been officially sent to government.
The commission warned it would be grossly unfair and unconscionable if Australia opened up before people with disability had the chance to be immunised.
Vaccine rollout co-ordinator John Frewen said all people would have the opportunity to be vaccinated by the time the 70 per cent double-dose vaccination coverage threshold was reached.
The committee heard 75.2 per cent of people living in National Disability Insurance Scheme shared accommodation had received one dose, while 66.7 per cent were fully vaccinated.