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Canberra Today 14°/16° | Wednesday, October 20, 2021 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Julie calls for all prison officers to be vaccinated

INDIGENOUS health leader Julie Tongs wants COVID-19 vaccinations to be mandatory for all prison officers in the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC). 

Ms Tongs, the CEO of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service, made this call after a positive covid case in a male detainee forced the prison into lockdown more than a week ago.

However, Ms Tongs first called on the ACT government to do everything within its power to ensure all detainees were protected from the risk of contracting the virus 18 months ago when the pandemic began.

Winnunga Nimmityjah
Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health & Community Services CEO Julie Tongs.

She said it’s critically important that COVID-19 be kept out of the AMC and that an excess of caution must therefore be employed to ensure the virus is not allowed to spread through the prison population.

The lives of detainees were at heightened risk because of the generally poor health status, which many of them endure, she said.

“In addition their risk of developing COVID-19 now that there are positive cases in the prison is exacerbated because inmates are physically constrained and cannot necessarily either socially distance or avoid contact with spaces or other people, whether fellow detainees or prison officers, who may be infected with the virus,” she said.

“It was therefore vital all detainees be immediately vaccinated.”

Ms Tongs is particularly concerned that the ACT government had not mandated that all prison officers or indeed any person, including Justice Health staff and statutory office holders, entering the AMC be fully vaccinated.

She said the unique circumstances of people detained in prison, namely that they are under the total control of and in the care of the state, meant that the responsibility to protect them from harm, including from prison officers who may reasonably be thought to be infected with a life-threatening virus, is absolute.

Ms Tongs said the duty of care owned by ACT Corrections to protect detainees in their care and under their protection was such that if a detainee was infected, even if unwittingly, by an unvaccinated prison officer, and heaven forbid died from COVID-19 complications then consideration would need to be given to the degree of personal responsibility that those responsible for the management of the AMC should
bear.

A spokeswoman from the ACT COVID-19 Public Information Coordination Centre confirmed that it is not mandatory for prison officers to get a covid vaccination.

She said all correctional officers at the Alexander Maconochie Centre are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine under phase 1B of the rollout.

While officers are encouraged to be vaccinated at an ACT government clinic or through a participating general practice, she said vaccinations are voluntary but strongly encouraged.

The spokeswoman could not provide any data revealing how many prison officer or prison staff are vaccinated and said that any information would only be based on the officers self-reporting.

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