The New Jersey State Prison in Trenton (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)
Vaccination rates among state corrections workers jumped nearly eight percentage points since a vaccine mandate for prisons and other congregate settings went into effect last month, but nearly half have yet to complete their vaccine regimen.
This comes as Gov. Phil Murphy has delayed the deadline for corrections officials and workers in other non-health care settings to complete their vaccinations. The Murphy administration cited updated federal guidelines on the timing of two-shot vaccines when it announced the change Wednesday morning, but the governor’s critics say he is caving to their pressure.
As of Wednesday, roughly 51% of Department of Corrections staff had received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, said Liz Velez, the department’s communications director.
That figure was 43% on Feb. 16, when workers were required to have completed their first dose or face consequences that could include termination. Velez said no disciplinary action has been taken over vaccine compliance.
“The department continues to collect and review the data following the first deadline for the COVID-19 vaccine,” Velez said.
Union officials representing correctional officers have raised alarms over the mandate, charging it would lead to enormous staff shortages at state prisons. Velez said the mandate has yet to affect state prison operations.
Bill Sullivan, president of the New Jersey Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 105, which represents corrections officers, said Monday 3,104 of the 5,365 corrections officers represented by the union had been vaccinated, for a rate of about 58%. It’s not clear if that figure includes partial vaccinations.
Another 1,374 corrections workers filed applications for religious exemptions, and 101 filed for medical exemptions, Sullivan said. Those are still being reviewed, and workers can appeal a denial.
The union sued to halt the vaccine mandate from taking effect but lost in the appellate division.
Murphy’s Wednesday announcement means workers must now become fully vaccinated by May 11 instead of March 30, the original deadline. That includes a booster shot, but workers can receive their boosters up to three weeks after the deadline, depending on when they become eligible for the extra shot.
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