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

From now to November, WildsafeBC will be educating the public through its various programs in the community of Bella Coola. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bears are back, and so is WildSafeBC

Rae will be working hard to reach out to community members in new and innovative ways

Bella Coola’s new WildSafeBC co-ordinator, Rae Kokeš, has spent the last 10 years in Africa working in lion, human, conflict, and is a wildlife biologist by trade. (Photo submitted)
From the savannas of Africa to the Bella Coola Valley

New Wildsafe BC coordinator ready to tackle wildlife conflict

Bella Coola Valley Ridge Riders Horse Club board member Annika Granander watches, and participates in the gymkhana Sunday (Photo submitted)
Sunshine and smiles all around Bella Coola Ridge Riders Horse Club gymkhana

The event was the first of the year, with COVID-19 safety precautions in place

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Stolen truck found broken down on Highway 97C, Williams Lake suspect arrested near Ashcroft

A security guard first noticed the truck, and thought it looked suspicious

A build up of lint in a clothes dryer is believed to have caused a house fire in Alexis Creek Sunday evening, April 4, 2021. (Photo submitted)
Clothing dryer suspected cause of Alexis Creek home fire, owner wants to warn others

Neil Miller is thankful he still has his horses, community support and his life

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

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

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. The federal government is expected to end nearly two years of mystery today and reveal its plan to build a new, long overdue heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver, Quebec shipyards to each get new heavy icebreaker, cost remains a mystery

Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards and Quebec-based Chantier Davie will each build an icebreaker for the coast guard

Most Read