International aid body urges government to vaccinate at-risk diplomats

By Shannon Jenkins

February 24, 2021

(Image: Adobe/Yevhenii)

The Australian Council for International Development has called on the government to grant commonwealth employees that have been deployed overseas priority access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Under the government’s vaccine rollout strategy, commonwealth staff who encounter returning travellers have been listed as among the first to be inoculated.

But last week the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Australian diplomats and consular staff working overseas have been denied priority access to the vaccines.

ACFID CEO Marc Purcell on Monday said these frontline employees are being left exposed in places where COVID-19 is rampant.

“We think the government has the responsibility to protect all commonwealth employees who are at risk,” he said in a statement.

“At a time when DFAT is under pressure and facing multiple consular, geopolitical and development challenges, Australia needs their staff operating at full tilt: assisting Australians overseas; prosecuting Australia’s interests; and building partnerships through helping other nations bearing the brunt of COVID-19.”

Earlier this year the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade revealed that roughly 70% of its officials remained in 84 countries during the height of the pandemic, and almost 300 overseas staff were brought back to Australia.

Read more: More than 80% of DFAT staff supported COVID-19 response effort

The ACFID has also urged the government to give priority vaccine access to workers engaged in the Australian development program, arguing that Australia’s humanitarian assistance to neighbouring nations will suffer if diplomats and aid workers are not vaccinated.

“In addition to DFAT staff working at overseas posts, Australian development workers will be assisting in the vaccine roll-out in the region, combatting vaccine hesitancy and are deployed in humanitarian emergencies, alongside diplomatic and defence personnel,” Purcell said.

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