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 Monday, there were a total of 201 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.

There have also been several outbreaks in provincially run jails.

Martha Paynter, a registered nurse in Halifax who provides reproductive care to inmates, 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.

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.”

The Correctional Service of Canada was to provide comment later Thursday.

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.”

— With files from Fakiha Baig in Edmonton and Shawn Jeffords in Toronto

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Coronavirusprison

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

Just Posted

Interior Health has declared the Cariboo Chilcotin a community cluster. (Angie Mindus photo)
Interior Health declares Cariboo Chilcotin region a COVID-19 cluster, 215 cases since Jan. 1

Most cases are related to transmission at social events and gatherings in Williams Lake

The City of Williams Lake is awaiting the arrival of seven terrain park features typically found at ski hills to create more winter recreational opportunities in Boitanio Park. (Arena Snowparks Instagram)
City shows cool side with winter, Boitanio rail park

“We’re just waiting for their arrival and a little more snow,” Atkinson said.

Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars provides a community COVID-19 update from his home Wednesday, Jan. 20. (Williams Lake First Nation Facebook image)
WLFN chief reports 11 members fully recovered from COVID-19

23 active cases remains, says Chief Willie Sellars

A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is displayed on Jan. 5, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Rick Bowmer/AP)
Power outage spoils COVID-19 vaccine at Tl’etinqox

Temperature-sensitive vaccine no longer viable after Jan. 18 event

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Vancouver Canucks’ Travis Hamonic grabs Montreal Canadiens’ Josh Anderson by the face during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horvat scores winner as Canucks dump Habs 6-5 in shootout thriller

Vancouver and Montreal clash again Thursday night

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Vernon's Noric House long-term care facility is dealing with an influenza outbreak amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (File photo)
Two more deaths at Vernon care home

Noric House case numbers remain steady, but death toll rises

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
1-in-5 COVID tests coming back positive in and around Fernie, sparking concern

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Most Read