Prison officers are still waiting to get vaccinated even as COVID-19 case numbers begin to seriously test their efforts to keep NSW’s jails virus-free, with the union calling on Justice Health to reinstate the on-site vaccination rollout.
The Public Service Association said another round of workplace vaccinations for prison officer was urgently needed to make sure there isn’t mass spread inside any prison.
“Prison is up there with as a super spreading environment – once it gets in to the main population you’re in real trouble,” said Nicole Jess, president of the PSA and chair of the Prison Officers Vocational Branch. “But it is preventable – we need jabs in prisons now, it’s simple as that.”
While prison officers who had received their first dose were still able to get the second dose at work, those who had missed out in the first round were now being instructed to go to their GP or through a state-run hub. However, many prison officers, particularly those in regional NSW including Dubbo and Bathurst, were telling the union they couldn’t readily access the vaccine, despite being eligible as part of the phase 1b group.
The union said requests to NSW Health for another round of workplace vaccinations inside the jail had been rebuffed, as doses in regional NSW were now being prioritised for Sydney.
The union said while ongoing lockdown and rigorous isolation measures had managed to keep the prisons largely free COVID-19 they had also contributed to significant tensions within the inmate population.
“For 20 months prison officers have been working in tense jails, where people really are on a hair trigger. Now the government is thumbing its nose at their efforts, rather than delivering vaccinations to the workplace which would significantly reduce the stress and tension inside NSW’s jails.
“Prison officers want to be vaccinated, and for the stability of our corrections systems they need to be vaccinated, urgently.
“Effectively the government is telling them they’ve had their chance and now it’s on to them to sort it out. But it was the government’s changing advice that caused delays in the first place.
“An ongoing COVID-19 vaccine rollout, throughout the prison system must be a priority – particularly in regional NSW, where prisons are the largest employer.”