A bin of COVID-19 syringes for the first round of health-care workers to be vaccinated at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center is seen in Albuquerque, N.M., on Dec. 16, 2020. Advocates say inmates should have speedy access to the COVID-19 vaccine, given how susceptible prisons and jails have been to outbreaks and how prevalent chronic disease is in that population. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, UNM Health

A bin of COVID-19 syringes for the first round of health-care workers to be vaccinated at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center is seen in Albuquerque, N.M., on Dec. 16, 2020. Advocates say inmates should have speedy access to the COVID-19 vaccine, given how susceptible prisons and jails have been to outbreaks and how prevalent chronic disease is in that population. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, UNM Health

‘Grave risk:’ Advocates say inmates should get speedy access to COVID-19 vaccine

There have been several outbreaks in provincially run jails

Advocates say inmates should have speedy access to the COVID-19 vaccine, given how susceptible prisons and jails have been to outbreaks and how prevalent chronic disease is in that population.

“I don’t think they should go to the front of the line, but I certainly don’t think they should be denied their rightful place in the priority line simply because they’re prisoners,” said Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada.

The Correctional Service of Canada said that, as of Tuesday, there were a total of 276 active COVID-19 cases in federal prisons. The bulk were at Joyceville Institution near Kingston, Ont., Stony Mountain Institution near Winnipeg and the Saskatchewan Penitentiary near Prince Albert, Sask.

There have also been several outbreaks in provincially run jails.

Martha Paynter, a registered nurse in Halifax who advocates for the health of people behind bars, said hygiene and ventilation in correctional institutions are issues at the best of times.

There is also high turnover in remand centres and staff are constantly coming and going, she added.

Inmates are “living in this incredibly restrictive experience, but also facing very grave risk of illness transmission,” said Paynter, a doctoral candidate at Dalhousie University.

Inmates 50 and older account for one-quarter of the federal prison population. Advocates note people age faster behind bars and are in poorer health than the general public.

“Of course this population should have very quick access to the vaccines,” said Paynter, who added that some might not trust the shots due to bad experiences with health care behind bars.

She said the bigger issue is why there are so many people incarcerated in the first place.

“What are we choosing to police? What are we choosing to criminalize?”

Anita Ho, associate professor in bioethics and health services research at the University of British Columbia, noted Indigenous people are disproportionately represented in the corrections system.

“In general, health among Indigenous peoples in Canada, because of various social determinants of health, are poorer to start with,” she said.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunizations recommends adult Indigenous communities be included in Stage 1 of vaccine delivery. It recommends congregate settings, including correctional facilities, be included in Stage 2.

The Correctional Service of Canada, which is responsible for providing health services for inmates in its care, says in a statement it is aligning its strategy with the national guidelines.

“CSC has worked very closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada to respond to every aspect of the pandemic, including the provision of vaccines to inmates.”

Priority groups such as long-term care residents and health-care workers began receiving doses earlier this month.

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical health officer for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said criteria for who gets the vaccine in Manitoba in the new year will be expanded to include “correctional facilities,” but did not specify whether that would be inmates, staff or both.

Other provinces have not detailed their plans.

Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General said it will be looking at the availability of doses and would carry out immunizations “based on the latest medical advice and scientific evidence.”

Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman said: “We will consider based on what the needs are at that specific time and … the amount of vaccines that we have flowing into the province.”

In Alberta, chief medical health officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw said, “We’ll have a clear ethical dimension that we need to make sure we’re considering.”

University of Toronto bioethicist Kerry Bowman said there was a consensus about who would receive the first batch of vaccines, but determining who should be next is trickier.

He said it’s not clear whether the goal of the second phase will be to boost the economy or to reach more vulnerable people.

In the United States, there has been some pushback against inmates getting dibs earlier.

“There’s no way it’s going to go to prisoners before it goes to the people who haven’t committed any crime,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said after the state’s vaccination rollout plan was criticized.

Bowman said that kind of argument is neither scientifically nor ethically sound.

“It’s a very dangerous precedent in any society when you start saying these lives are more valuable than those lives.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Maggie Fowler, left, and Gabby Friesen of the Keremeos branch of the Royal Canadian Legion receiving monies from the federal government under the Veterans Organizations Emergency Support Fund. (Submitted)
Keremeos Royal Canadian Legion branch receives federal support

The funds are part of $20 million in support to veterans’ organizations across Canada

This now empty restaurant beside the Summerland Waterfront Resort will be turned back to its former glory of Shaughnessy’s Cove. Opening in May. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Summerland waterfront is getting a new restaurant

The now closed Local will be turned back into its former glory of the Shaughnessy’s Cove

Bob MacMillan raises a toast to Robbie Burns at the celebration for the 261st birthday of the Scottish Bard on Saturday, Jan. 18. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Explore Scottish culture with new Penticton television series

The Penticton Scottish Festival’s Exploring Scottish Culture in the Okanagan series debuts Jan. 18

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
115 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths in Interior Health

There are now a total of 4,970 cases in the region

Gorgeous fiery sunset taken from a parking lot on Martin St. on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 at 4:45 p.m. (Brennan Phillips)
January is producing some gorgeous sunsets

Sunsets and warm weather for the start of 2021

Brett Forsythe battles it out in a game of singles pickleball on ice at Okanagan Training Rink Thursday, Jan. 7 in support of the Vernon Food Bank. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Pickleball play hits the ice in Okanagan

Rivals battle it out in support of the food bank

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Phase 4 of the Kicking Horse Canyon Project is on track, despite COVID-19 and the recent provincial election. (Government of BC photo)
Kicking Horse Canyon Phase 4 closures announced

The first major closures are expected to occur starting on April 12 until May 14

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

The municipality of Summerland is considering a 1.65 per cent property tax increase for 2021. The increase is lower than tax increases in previous years. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Summerland taxes expected to rise by 1.65%

Increases also forecast for Summerland utility rates

Megan Freedman’s music video for Perfect was shot at the Lindon House on Ethel Street. (Perfect - Megan Freedman)
Kelowna musician’s anti-bullying anthem receives international award

The music video was shot at Kelowna’s Lindon House

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

Lindsay Palmateer, a Salmon Arm mother of six, succumbed to her injuries after a serious crash Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, south of Enderby. (Contributed)
Salmon Arm mother of 6 remembered following fatal Highway 97A crash

GoFundMe campaign exceeds goal already for family involved in deadly crash near Enderby

An elementary school student misplaced their glucose monitoring device for diabetes and his family and teachers are hoping someone maybe picked it up. (Dexcom)
North Okanagan student missing medical device

Receiver used to monitor diabetes believed left in snowbank at school

Most Read