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

Nedeea Siwallace and her partner, Carlos Andy, with their children Shakira 14, Dre 10, and Tamacia 4 (photo submitted)
Local family shares their experience of COVID-19

Nedeea Siwallace and her partner decided that being honest was the best way to keep everyone safe

COVID cases in the Bella Coola Valley have dropped to just four active cases (file photo)
Active COVID cases drop to four; schools re-open for face-to-face instruction

A total of 63 cases were recorded with 59 now out of isolation

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Joyce Cooper (left) said she had to set an example for Tsilhqot’in communities by sharing her COVID-19 positive results. (Photo submitted)
Tsideldel off-reserve member documents experience of COVID-19

We should all be supporting one another and not judging each other, says Joyce Cooper

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

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

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Downtown Fernie is pictured after a snowfall.

Most Read