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, the Public Service Association has warned.
The union is now calling for the on-site vaccination rollout to be reintroduced, saying another round of workplace vaccinations for prison officers was urgently needed to make sure there isn’t mass spread inside any prison.
“Prison is up there as a super-spreading environment – once it gets into 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 as simple as that.”
Struggle to access vaccine in regions
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, have told the union they couldn’t readily access the vaccine, despite being eligible as part of the phase 1b group.
According to the Public Service Association, requests to NSW Health for another round of workplace vaccinations inside the jail had been rebuffed, as doses in regional NSW are 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.
State’s jails remain on a hair-trigger
“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,” the association said in a statement.
“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.”