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Prisons Are Covid-19 Hotbeds. When Should People in Prison Get the Vaccine?

The New York Times: Roni Caryn Rabin - December 2, 2020

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?

With distribution expected to start as early as this month, public health officials are scrambling to develop guidelines for the equitable allocation of limited vaccine supplies. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet on Tuesday to make initial determinations about who gets the first shots.

There is broad consensus that health care workers who treat Covid-19 patients should be first in line. Other high-priority groups include residents and employees of long-term care facilities, essential workers whose jobs keep people fed and society running, and medically vulnerable and older adults — roughly in that order.

Prison inmates are not ranked in the top tiers of the federal criteria, even though some of the largest outbreaks have occurred in the nation’s prisons. More than 2,200 inmates were sickened and 28 people died, for example, after an outbreak in the San Quentin State Prison in California over the summer.

Yet the 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.

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