At least nine states will place prisoners in jails ahead of the general public in getting COVID-19 vaccinations. Those nine states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Carolina, Montana, Nevada, and New Mexico, according to The Washington Post.
The U.S. currently houses around 1.4 million people in state and federal prisons and nearly a million more in local jails and other detention centers.
In Massachusetts, prisoners will be offered the vaccine before the general public, as the state’s three-phase distribution plan revealed on Wednesday. Inmates will be part of phase one, which also includes healthcare workers, first responders, and those in homeless shelters. Phase two, beginning in February will include high-risk people as well as school teachers, sanitation and public works employees, and adults over 65. Phase three, starting in April, will offer the vaccine to the general public.
Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker stated, “Our plan for the first round of vaccine shipments maximizes life-saving care for our most vulnerable residents and protects health care workers, first responders and workers doing COVID-facing work.”
North Carolina’s vaccination plan states that prisoners in jails will be part of Phase 1B. 1A includes “healthcare workers and medical first responders who are at high risk of exposure based on work duties or who are vital to the initial COVID-19 vaccine distribution.” Phase 1B includes: “residents in long-term care settings, including nursing homes, adult care homes, family care homes, group homes, and homes serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities; people who have two or more of the chronic conditions identified by ACIP/CDC as increased risk of COVID disease severity; people over 65 years who live in congregate settings (i.e., migrant farm camps, prisons/jails, homeless shelters); and staff of congregate living settings.”
The Colorado Sun reported that the draft plan in the state for vaccine prioritization sent to the CDC in October “specifically places people in prisons and jails in a higher priority tier than healthy adults who are age 65 or older.”
The Kaiser Family Foundation reported the following on the CDC’s guidance on vaccine allocation:
On December 1, 2020, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC), issued an initial recommendation, adopted by the CDC director, that health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities should be the first to be offered a COVID-19 vaccine once it is authorized or approved by the FDA (See Appendix A).
The ACIP recommendation recognizes that health care workers, who are at higher risk of exposure to people with COVID-19, are essential for preserving health care capacity during the pandemic. Further, it recognizes that long-term care residents are at high risk of serious illness if infected with the virus and account for 40% of all COVID-19 deaths. States have the authority to make their own allocation decisions, although most will likely follow the ACIP guidelines for the initial priority groups.