Connecticut’s unionized prison guards expressed anger Wednesday over what they say is the lack of a plan to vaccinate them against COVID-19.
Jody Barr, the executive director of AFSCME Council 4, said the union was told there would be a plan to vaccinate prison employees by early January, but they have yet to hear when they might get the vaccine, or how it will be distributed to them.
“The department has not asked the correction officers how many of them are willing to take it,” Barr said. “And without knowing how many vaccines you are going to need, how can they have a plan to distribute it?”
Correction officers are among the essential workers in the state’s group “1B,” making them eligible for the vaccine.
But the governor’s office has said that, because it is receiving only about 46,000 doses a week for those getting a first shot of the two-dose regimen, it is limiting appointments for the time being to people over the age of 75.
Appointments are expected to be expanded in about two weeks to those over 65. Only after those people are vaccinated will appointments be opened to those with preexisting medical conditions and essential workers.
The state has said it has begun vaccinating those living in congregate settings on a parallel track.
Angel Quiros, the acting Correction Department commissioner, sent a memo to staff Wednesday saying the state expects to begin giving shots in early February to both staff and prisoners.
Correction Department spokesperson Karen Martucci said her department continues to work with the Department of Public Health and Comptroller’s Office on a plan that will allow it to “efficiently vaccinate as many staff members and inmates as quickly as possible.”
AFSCME said that 1,068 of its members working in the prisons have contracted the coronavirus since the pandemic started.
The department said 271 staff members are currently recovering after being infected with the virus.
Sean Howard, the president of union local at the Cheshire Correctional Institution, said he developed what his doctors tell him likely will be a lifelong heart condition as a result of contracting COVID-19.
“I feel staff safety is not the priority of our leaders,” he said. “I am frustrated beyond words with the lackadaisical approach from the DOC. I worry about getting COVID a second time.”