COVID-19 Disability Data review

COVID-19 has exposed the existing inequities that disabled people face in their everyday lives.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic the Government response has worked under the assumption that disabled people, including tāngata whaikaha Māori, are at greater risk of poor outcomes if they contract COVID-19.  

Universal approaches such as New Zealand’s high vaccination uptake and border controls were successful in safeguarding all population groups, including disabled people. 

However, the Omicron outbreak led to more cases of COVID-19.

Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People – with support from Manatū Hauora – the Ministry of Health - are working to improve our understanding of COVID-19’s impact on disabled people.

About 24% of the New Zealand population identified as being disabled in the 2013 Disability Survey. As disability is not recorded on a person’s NHI number, where most COVID-19 data and insights are obtained, it has been difficult to gain a full picture of the impact of COVID-19 on all disabled people.

COVID-19 information on case rates, hospitalisations and mortality rates are available for people who receive Disability Support Services from Whaikaha.  

Whaikaha, with support from Manatū Hauora has analysed this data. These results should not be generalised to all disabled people in New Zealand.

About 43,000 people received Disability Support Services (DSS) from Whaikaha between 1 January 2022 and 16 November 2022.

DSS recipients are likely to have more complex needs, a medical condition which puts them at greater risks, live with other people, and receive support that requires close contact with other people.

These people tend to be younger than the general population, so the analysis has been limited to recipients aged under 70 years.

The analysis by Manatū Hauora and Whaikaha shows that people receiving DSS have been at greater risk of severe outcomes (hospitalisation and death) due to COVID-19.

While they were 9% less likely to be reported as a positive case, they were 4.2 times more likely to be admitted to hospital for COVID-19, and 13 times more likely to die of or with COVID-19.

While this group also had a 19 times higher risk of mortality from causes other than COVID-19, the data highlights the need for government agencies to continue to work together to ensure the COVID-19 response meets the needs of disabled people and tāngata whaikaha Māori (Māori disabled people).

Additional analysis by Whaikaha found 27 people who were receiving DSS were reported as having died due to or with COVID-19 during this period. Of these, 16 people were receiving residential support when they died, making them 47 times more likely to die of or with the virus than other New Zealanders. 11 non-residential support clients died, meaning they were seven times more likely to die of or with COVID-19. 

Agencies are committed to continuing to improve our understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on disabled New Zealanders and tāngata whaikaha Māori. 

Support is available

COVID-19 Support and information for disabled people, including in alternate formats, is available here on the Unite against COVID-9 Information for Disabled People external URL webpage 

The COVID-19 disability helpline can provide help or information about vaccines, face mask exemptions, testing, managing COVID-19, and any other health concerns you may have. This includes if your support worker or carer is unavailable. Call 0800 11 12 13 for free. If you are unable to call, you can text 8988

The COVID-19 welfare phone line can help if you are self-isolating and need food or other essential items. Call 0800 512 337

If it is an emergency and you need urgent medical help or cannot breathe properly, call emergency services on 111. If you have COVID-19, tell them when you call.

Links to more information