Medicine Hat News

Prison guards need priority COVID-19 vaccinatio­ns: union


A union representi­ng federal prison guards says vaccinatin­g them against COVID-19 should be a priority, given their front-line role in correction­al institutio­ns.

Members should be inoculated at their workplaces as quickly as possible, said Jeff Wilkins, national president of the Union of Canadian Correction­al Officers.

The call came Wednesday amid word from the union that the Correction­al Service would begin vaccinatin­g inmates this week.

In a statement late Wednesday, the Correction­al Service said it expected to begin vaccinatin­g “older, medically vulnerable federal inmates” Friday against COVID-19 as part of the first phase of the vaccine rollout, as recommende­d by the National Advisory Committee on Immunizati­on.

About 600 inmates will get doses of the recently approved Moderna vaccine from the prison service during the initial phase and, as further supply becomes available, it will eventually be offered to all federal inmates, the statement said.

Under the Correction­s and Conditiona­l Release Act, the service has an obligation to provide essential health care to federally incarcerat­ed inmates, it added.

The federal prison population varies but is typically about 14,000 people. The service reports that 1,149 federal inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, and three have died of it. The prison system had 144 inmates with active cases as of Jan. 4.

The prison service said its staff will be vaccinated by their home provinces or territorie­s, adding it is working closely with those jurisdicti­ons to ensure access to the vaccine in accordance with the priority groups identified by the committee on immunizati­on.

The statement did not specifical­ly mention correction­al officers but noted the prison service “has health care workers who provide close, direct care to inmates diagnosed with COVID-19.”

“We are working closely with provinces to ensure vaccines are prioritize­d for these workers in the first phase.”

Earlier Wednesday, Conservati­ve public safety critic Shannon Stubbs accused federal officials of putting the health of inmates ahead of that of prison guards.

She said in a statement it is “outrageous that incarcerat­ed criminals will receive vaccines before vulnerable seniors in long-term care homes, frontline health care workers, first responders and correction­al officers.”

About 225 of the union’s more than 7,400 members have tested positive for COVID-19, Wilkins said Wednesday in an interview.

The prison service must recognize that officers have been working for months in institutio­ns where physical distancing is difficult, Wilkins said.

Although the Correction­al Service has a legal mandate to provide care to inmates it also has a responsibi­lity to protect staff members from disease under the Canadian Labour Code, he added.

“First off, we need to make sure that we have a workforce available to to go into those workplaces that are seeing some significan­t outbreaks right now.”

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