Ocean County’s legislative delegation has blasted a policy by the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy that considers inmates in prisons and jails across New Jersey to be a priority group to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
The policy was vaguely referenced by Murphy in a recent press briefing over the state’s pandemic response and was later confirmed by a state Health Department official. News of the inmates being prioritized before some senior citizens led to the local lawmakers to publicly decry the policy.
“Unlike other states that put their senior population first, our governor is choosing to vaccinate prison inmates before our most vulnerable citizens,” stated Sen. James Holzapfel (R-Ocean). “We are seeing a substantial increase in cases at assisted living facilities and this will only get worse if the vaccine isn’t distributed properly to those most in need. The senior population and health care providers in our district have been patiently waiting for the rollout of the vaccine and to see the governor alter the distribution and immunize inmates first is disgraceful.”
New Jersey lags behind many other states, including Florida, which is already vaccinating the general population of senior citizens. So far, New Jersey remains in the midst of its effort to vaccinate healthcare workers, though the prisoners and other populations are beginning to receive the vaccine.
NJ.com first reported that prisoners and correctional officers were both placed into the same risk category and, thus, vaccinated during the same phase.
“We know that our prison population is a very vulnerable community,” Gov. Phil Murphy said recently.
The Bergen Record, days after Murphy’s comment, reported that inmates at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton with underlying conditions had been vaccinated. A spokesman for Murphy told the newspaper that prisons and their “congregate” populations fall into “multiple categories” of risk and, therefore, should be included as a priority after healthcare workers in category 1a.
The explanation did not sit well with the legislators, whose county has the largest senior citizen population in the state and has been disproportionately affected by the virus. Ocean County also has the highest veteran population in New Jersey, highly driven by its seniors.
“The idea that the Governor has prioritized inmates over the elderly is yet another example of how this Administration has failed our seniors,” said Assemblyman Gregory P. McGuckin (R-Ocean).
Assemblyman John Catalano (R-Ocean) said the administration is leaving long-term care facilities and senior citizens behind, despite their being at the highest risk of succumbing to Covid-19.
“He seems to care more about photo ops, fanfare and prisoners than overseeing the proper protocols to ensure that our most vulnerable residents are put first,” Catalano said of Murphy.