New York Daily News: MANHATTAN – The Department of Correction’s coronavirus vaccination rate has been stagnant for more than two weeks — with nearly half of the agency’s uniformed workforce still holding off on getting their shots despite a looming mandate deadline.
City Hall data released Tuesday shows that only 63 percent of Correction Department staff have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. That’s the same vaccination rate the department had on October 31 and the lowest by far of all municipal agencies.
When only accounting for uniformed Correction Department staff — the majority of which are the correction officers tasked with guarding inmates on Rikers Island — the one-dose vaccination rate is just 57 percent, according to the latest data.
Mayor de Blasio’s vaccination mandate for the Correction Department is set to take effect on December 1, sparking fears that thousands of the department’s roughly 8,400 uniformed staff could be suspended at a time when Rikers is already in crisis due to overcrowding, staffing shortages and violence. An unprecedented number of correction officers calling in sick to work fueled the emergency over the summer, though the number of sick-calls have recently diminished.
Benny Boscio, the president of the union representing city correction officers, said mandate-related suspensions could be a recipe for disaster.
“We still have officers working triple shifts with no meals and rest every day,” Boscio said. “To move forward with placing what little staff we do have on leave by December 1 would be like pouring gasoline on a fire, which will have a catastrophic impact on the safety of our officers and the thousands of inmates in our custody.”
The Correction Department was the only municipal department given until December 1 to comply with de Blasio’s mandate, with workers at all other agencies subject to a November 1 deadline to either get vaccinated or be placed on unpaid leave.
De Blasio said on October 20 that his administration was working “diligently to address the ongoing staffing situation at Rikers” amid outrage over squalid conditions on the island. A stunning 14 detainees have died in city custody this year.
But asked Tuesday about the potential for worse staff shortages due to the mandate, de Blasio said he’s confident a wave of correction officers will get vaccinated once the deadline arrives.
“I think we have such a body of evidence right now that when a mandate goes into effect, overwhelmingly members of the workforce honor it,” de Blasio said, noting that vaccination rates for Department of Education and health care workers surged in the days immediately before and after their mandate deadline.
“So it’s going to be the same exact process that we’ve seen previously. … It’s almost essentially the same pattern every single time, by the way,” he said.
Still, no other city agency has had as much difficulty convincing workers to get the shot.
The city Department of Veterans’ Services, the agency with the second worst vaccination rate, reported that 83 percent of its workforce was vaccinated, according to the most recent data.
Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said his department has made extensive outreach to staff about the vaccine.
“We’ve already had town halls and robocalls, spoken to members, distributed posters, and video messages. We set up a vaccination site on Rikers Island with a shuttle bus running from every jail to that vaccination site. We held family days on the island so officers’ entire households could get the shot,” Schiraldi said during an appearance at de Blasio’s Monday morning briefing. “And there’s going to be more to come.”
Boscio, who is himself vaccinated, said his union is also educating members about the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines.
But the union boss also said his members should “have the right to make their own medical decisions” and ripped de Blasio’s mandate as unjust.
“It is extremely hypocritical to mandate our officers be vaccinated, while there is no mandate for the inmates in our custody, nor the visitors who come in and out of our jails everyday,” Boscio said.
- Top Feature Photo: Uniformed DOC staff have a one-dose vaccination rate of just 57% – James Keivom/New York Daily News