Prisoners: A Blind Spot in Coronavirus Vaccination Efforts

Beyond the Curve: Dr. Peter Lurie's COVID-19 Blog

Photo of an empty prison yard
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In the last couple of days, we’ve witnessed remarkable scenes in which health care workers roll up their sleeves as the first to receive Pfizer’s newly authorized coronavirus vaccine. They got to the top of the list following recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Nursing home residents are also prioritized for this round. Next up would be essential workers, followed by people 65 and older and those with underlying medical conditions. Sounds good to me.

But why are we not prioritizing the 2.3 million people currently in prisons, jails, and other detention centers, a group drawn disproportionately from minority communities, when they’ve experienced over 200,000 COVID-19 cases and over 1,500 deaths? And why are some states vaccinating corrections officers but not prisoners?

In this opinion piece in The Hill, I explore this and related questions. Can’t we agree that to extract the greatest benefit from the current crop of COVID-19 vaccines we should in general provide them to those with the most immediate need? Judgments based on social desirability have no place in public health.

Thanks to CSPI consultant David Schardt for his invaluable research for the Hill op-ed and this accompanying post.

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