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

Seattle Mariners field coordinator Carson Vitale before a game at T-Mobile Park during the 2020 season. Vitale, who grew up in Victoria, has pledged to run 10 miles a day for 2021 and to donate 50 cents per mile to the United Way of King County. (Ben Van Houten/Seattle Mariners)
Mariners coach running 10 miles a day for United Way

Saanich-raised Carson Vitale, Seattle Mariners field coordinator, plans to run 3,650 miles in 2021

Gordon English, construction manager of the Habitat for Humanity project in North Saanich, shows off the current interior of a townhouse part of the affordable housing project. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Families set to move in to affordable housing project in North Saanich by spring

Pending completion of Habitat for Humanity project comes against backdrop of new housing report

A rainbow graces the departure of CCGS John Cabot as it leaves Victoria Jan. 7. (Canadian Coast Guard/Facebook)
Follow a coast guard ship’s trip from Victoria to Halifax, through Panama Canal

Canadian Coast Guard Ship John Cabot left for St. Johns on Jan. 7

Johnathan Lee Robichaud pleaded guilty to eight charges including sex-related offences against children and accessing, possessing and making or publishing child pornography. (Courtesy of Saanich Police)
Sentencing date moved for Saanich nanny guilty of child porn charges

Johnathon Lee Robichaud pleaded guilty to eight sex offences against children

(Google Maps)
Sophisticated glass-removal crime returns to downtown Victoria

Several businesses on Fort Street targeted overnight, say police

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Most Read