Govt urged to vaccinate all prisoners immediately

Abbey Wakefield
Source: 1News

Professor Michael Baker is calling on the Government to vaccinate all prisoners as soon as possible due to it being a “high-risk environment.”

generic prison jail

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Health decided to stop Covid-19 vaccinations for prisoners due to low vaccine stock.

Currently, New Zealand’s prison population is just over 8,000 people.

So far, 3,782 prisoners have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccination. Of those, 983 prisoners have been fully vaccinated.

“The sheer complexity of having to transfer seriously ill inmates to hospitals and both having to provide healthcare and continuing supervision by corrections staff just seems like a potential nightmare in terms of infection control,” Professor Michael Baker said.

“Internationally, prisons have been infamous for having really high rates of infection, so they’ve been a real problem."

The vaccine rollout for prisoners stopped on June 14, and then resumed in late July.

“This decision was made in order to manage stocks of the vaccine in the lead up to new vaccine deliveries.” Corrections’ Deputy National Commissioner Leigh Marsh said.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins agrees prisons pose an issue.

“We’re very mindful of the people who we have in custody and the potential for Covid-19 to spread significantly and quickly in those kind of settings, we’ve seen that elsewhere around the world, is it one of the reasons why we have had a vaccination program in our prisons."

For new people coming into custody, Corrections staff have a number of safety protocols in place including separating them from other prisoners for their first 14 days.

However, Professor Baker questioned why it’s taking so long to vaccinate Corrections staff and prisoners.

“It just seems like an avoidable burden on the health system, when we can vaccinate all of those inmates quite quickly.".

So far, Covid-19 has not been detected in any New Zealand prisons.

“While vaccinations are not compulsory, we have taken a proactive approach to encouraging people in prison to be vaccinated against Covid-19,” Marsh said.

Hipkins announced this afternoon the next shipment of the Covid-19 vaccine is set to arrive within the next 10 days.