An effective Covid-19 vaccine program hinges on protecting front-line workers

To ensure the Covid-19 vaccination program is delivered safely and efficiently, the Federal Government should include frontline council workers in the cohort receiving the first shots, the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) says.

Councils employ a significant number of aged care and disability care staff and ALGA is pleased this cohort has already been identified by the Morrison Government as being eligible to be first in line to get the vaccines – along with health care workers, first responders, aged care residents, and other seniors.

ALGA has written to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt asking for his support to include essential frontline workers in local government among the groups getting the vaccine first.

With the logistical details of the vaccination program still being finalised, ALGA President Linda Scott said other frontline council workers need to be defined as priority groups.

Speaking ahead of Friday’s National Cabinet meeting, Cr Scott said: “These are workers who have significant daily contact with members of the public.

“People such as waste services staff, building and compliance officers, rangers, and food and environmental health workers.

“To protect them – and the many people they engage with each day – they should be classified as being eligible for priority vaccine access.”

Councils also employ customer service staff to provide essential services to residents and ratepayers – many of whom are elderly or vulnerable – and Cr Scott says these individuals should also be considered for early access to the vaccine.

Cr Scott said: “Local government has played a significant role in ensuring businesses and public spaces operate in a Covid-safe way in the past 12 months.

“Councils have kept in touch with vulnerable people in isolation, delivered meals and library books, and worked in countless ways to keep our communities as safe as possible.”

Local government has cooperated closely with state and territory governments to support the implementation of Covid response measures and recovery – and the sector is ready to play its part in the vaccine rollout.

“Councils will help promote the program and educate local communities about efficacy and safety of the vaccine,” Cr Scott said.

“We can provide spaces suitable for mass vaccinations with waiting areas that allow for physical distancing. All these will be factors in ensuring the highest possible immunisation rate.

“It makes good sense to protect the frontline personnel helping direct these efforts,” Cr Scott said.

She added that any discussion by the National Cabinet of regional or rural locations for Covid quarantine facilities needs to consider the local government perspective.

“To open new facilities with minimal public consultation risks compromising the integrity of the quarantine program as well as potentially spreading Covid-19 to local communities.

“Quarantine camps in regional areas will have a direct effect on local government.

“These impacts would be better understood and appreciated if local government was represented in National Cabinet.”

Cr Scott said councils are prepared to work closely with the states and Commonwealth to ensure the quarantine load is shared equally, and the best way to do this is through National Cabinet with local government represented at the table.