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November 30, 2020

"Prisons Are Covid-19 Hotbeds. When Should Inmates Get the Vaccine?"

The title of this post is the headline of this new New York Times piece.  Here are excerpts:  

They live in crowded conditions, sharing bathrooms and eating facilities where social distancing is impossible.  They have high rates of asthma, diabetes and heart disease.  Many struggle with mental illness. A disproportionate number are Black and Hispanic, members of minority communities that have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

So should prisoners and other detainees be given priority access to one of the new Covid-19 vaccines?...

[T]he C.D.C. advisory committee has prioritized correctional officers and others who work in jails and prisons for the first phase of immunizations.  The federal prison system will set aside its initial allotment for such employees, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The discrepancy raises a chilling prospect: another prison outbreak that kills scores of inmates after the only preventive was reserved for staff.  Officials at the Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Now several groups, including the American Medical Association, are calling for coronavirus vaccines to be given to inmates and employees at prisons, jails and detention centers, citing the unique risks to people in confinement — and the potential for outbreaks to spread from correctional centers, straining community hospitals....

The idea is controversial.  Allocating precious medical resources to people who are serving time may be anathema to much of the public, but it is widely accepted that the nation has an ethical and legal obligation to safeguard the health of incarcerated individuals.

There is also a powerful public health argument to be made for prison vaccination: Outbreaks that start in prisons and jails may spread to the surrounding community.  “Prisons are incubators of infectious disease,” Dr. Toner said. “It’s a fundamental tenet of public health to try and stop epidemics at their source,” he added.

One approach, under consideration by the National Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice, would be to prioritize vaccination only for prisoners and detainees whose medical conditions or advanced age put them at great risk should they become ill.  “This isn’t a criminal justice recommendation,” said Khalil Cumberbatch, a senior fellow at the Council on Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan group focused on criminal justice policy.  “It’s a public health recommendation. The virus is not in a vacuum if it’s in a state prison.”

November 30, 2020 at 04:45 PM | Permalink


On the practical side of things, it may depend on which form of the vaccine is being used. A one shot vaccine will be easier to do.

Particularly for a two-shot vaccine (with the two shots being given a month apart), jails might be hard to do as pre-trial detainees can bond out at any time. There is also the issue of new prisoners/detainees arriving after the first round of vaccination (regardless of whether a one-shot vaccine or two-shot vaccine).

Posted by: tmm | Dec 1, 2020 12:48:18 PM

Excellent point, tmm.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 1, 2020 4:01:02 PM

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