Urgent COVID-19 vaccination program needed in NSW Jails

Clarence Correctional Centre

The Australian government should urgently act to prevent an outbreak of the Covid-19 Delta strain from having devastating outcomes for vulnerable First Nations and prisoner populations, Human Rights Watch said today (13/08/21).

There is a growing concern of the significant at-risk group where Covid 19 infection is already spreading amongst those who are incarcerated – the out-of-sight, out-of-mind section of our community.

However, we cannot ignore this group and have already seen a released prisoner from Bathurst Jail travel to western NSW with devastating consequences. The need for quicker testing is obvious to avoid such a debacle as this.

We know there is a disproportion of Indigenous people in our jails. They often have complex medical histories with past major trauma leading to chronic diseases including mental health problems, addiction issues, chronic pain and other social disadvantages etc.

Rather than wait for a more serious Covid outbreak there needs to be a concerted effort to avoid such problems. This would include rapid Covid 19 testing, and a well organised vaccination program that takes into account existing vaccine hesitancy and resistance.

These are complex problems that need a public health approach to avoid the spread of a highly virulent virus in a vulnerable community that has strong links with the broader community. Of particular concern is our Aboriginal population who are suffering as a result of all the social determinants of health along with a rapidly spreading virus. This can be seen now unfolding in the remote community of Wilcannia in western NSW.

This is just the beginning of a major health crisis within our community.

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