National says it's 'ironic' prisoners being vaccinated before frontline cops

Hipkins says prisoners in a high-risk area have been moved up the list.
Hipkins says prisoners in a high-risk area have been moved up the list. Photo credit: Newshub.

National says it's 'ironic' some prisoners are receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations before many police officers who would be on the frontline if there's another outbreak.

Simeon Brown, the party's Police and Corrections spokesperson, on Wednesday shared an answer to a Parliamentary written question about how many prisoners have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

"I am advised that as at 11 May 2021, 79 people in prison have received their first COVID-19 vaccination dose," Corrections Kelvin Davis replied.

National leader Judith Collins shared a tweet about prisoners getting the vaccine before police, calling it "shocking", while Brown called it "ironic".

"It seems ironic that prisoners are being vaccinated in our prisons, but frontline police officers who are essential workers and would be tasked with enforcing the law if there was a future outbreak are having to wait until Phase 4 of the vaccination rollout," Brown told Newshub.

For the purposes of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, the New Zealand population has been broken down into four groups, the first two of which are currently being vaccinated. 

The first group are Kiwis working at the border or at managed isolation facilities. Brown says 1800 officers within that group have been eligible for the vaccine, but the "vast majority have to keep waiting".

The second group are high-risk frontline healthcare workers and people living in high-risk areas who are at greatest risk of getting sick or dying from COVID-19. A list of workers in this group eligible for the vaccine includes ambulance services and Fire and Emergency medical responders, but not police. 

Because of its proximity to locations linked to the border, the Counties Manukau District Health Board (DHB) area has been identified as an area of high-risk, which includes its prisons. 

"The prisons in Counties Manukau, which is a geographical area that we have identified for prioritisation, in those locations, they are moved up the vaccine priority order to level 2 as other key groups within those geographical areas are," COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday.

The Ministry of Health says from late May invitations will go out to people in group three, which are people who are at risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, while group four - the general public - will be vaccinated from July. 

As part of group three, people in custodial settings "eg people in prison" will start being vaccinated.

"International evidence has shown that COVID-19 can spread quickly amongst people in custody."

Hipkins said the Government has taken a "risk-based approach" and was trying to be as fair to New Zealanders as possible. 

"That is primarily looking at people most at risk of getting COVID-19 in the first place, so that's those people working at the border or in medical settings, people who are more at risk of an adverse outcome if they were to get it, so people with underlying health conditions, our elderly."

The minister said while the general public will become eligible for vaccinations in early July, that doesn't mean everyone will be able to get a jab straight away.

"It is going to take some time to work our way through the population. That is likely to be a process of about three months. People should not be expecting to be there right at the beginning of July. It will take time."

The Police Association is among those calling for the Government to bring forward frontline officers' vaccination. The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association (NZALPA) met with the Police Association recently and learnt frontline officers weren't being vaccinated yet. 

"We've seen how tricky this virus and its variants can be, and its ability to sneak through any gaps in local community defences," said NZALPA's president and international pilot, Captain Andrew Ridling. 

"To deny the vast majority of our police officers' access to a vaccination that is available right now, when we are asking those same police officers to work closely with some of our most vulnerable New Zealanders every day, has not been thought through."