The State Government has committed to ensuring prisoners and children in detention will be prioritised to receive COVID-19 vaccinations by placing them in the high-risk ‘Phase 1B’ cohort.
Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath, in a letter to Queensland Law Society yesterday, said the state’s correctional centres had been identified as high-risk facilities for the spread of potentially fatal coronavirus and had been made a priority of the COVID-19 vaccination program rollout.
Ms D’Ath’s response comes almost two months after QLS called on the State Government to provide a timeline for the provision of COVID-19 vaccinations to prisoners and children in detention.
On 12 July, QLS Vice President Kara Thomson wrote to the Health Minister seeking clarification on when prisoners and children in detention would be placed within the COVID-19 vaccination rollout.
“Currently, prisoners are not identified in the COVID-19 vaccine national rollout strategy nor in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout stages published on Queensland Health’s website,” Ms Thomson said in her letter. “People in prisons and detention facilities are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19 … (and) tend to have poorer physical and mental health than the general population, elevating the risks associated with COVID-19.”
Ms D’Ath, in her response, said: “I acknowledge that correctional centres are high-risk environments due to health status of prisoners upon entry to prison, the close living arrangements in prisons, and the large numbers of people entering and leaving prisons.
“Hence, prisoners and critical and high-risk workers including corrective services officers have been prioritised under category 1B for COVID-19 vaccinations.”
Rollout of Phase 1B of the COVID-19 vaccination program began on 22 March and has prioritised the immunisation of Australians aged 70 and over, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 55 and over, younger Australians with underlying health conditions, and frontline healthcare workers.
“COVID-19 vaccinations for prisoners and Queensland Corrective Services staff have been under way across Queensland since … March 2021,” Ms D’Ath said.
“It is important to note that there is not an end point for these vaccinations. With approximately 1000 prisoners entering or leaving prison each month across the state and new corrective service officers the vaccination program will need to be ongoing.”
Queensland’s Prisoners Legal Service (PLS), a not-for-profit community legal centre that provides free assistance to prisoners, says the threat of infection to prisoners is so serious it has asked the State Government to release as many prisoners as possible to improve health, medical and welfare services.
“PLS is very conscious of the impact of COVID-19 on the prison population in Queensland,” it says in a statement published on its website. “We are advocating with the State Government to release as many prisoners as possible.”