A new Oxford study identified prison inmates and staff as top priorities for the impending coronavirus vaccine.
The study, by the university’s Psychiatry Department reviewed outbreak studies of 28 highly contagious diseases including Covid-19, influenza and measles. They concluded that those living and working in prisons should be front of the queue for any prospective COVID-19 vaccine.
According to Professor Seena Fazel at Oxford University’s Psychiatry Department: the sub-optimal prison environment means that “prisons are high-risk settings for the transmission of contagious diseases and there are considerable challenges in managing outbreaks in them”.
Inmates are also disproportionately affected by outbreaks. Many prisoners have underlying health conditions or are from minority ethnic groups, making them more at risk from the disease. Moreover, the high number of staff who work at these institutions provide a vector for the virus to spread throughout the rest of the community.
Prisons have been a hotbed for coronavirus transmission. At the end of October, the Ministry of Justice announced that there had been over 1,500 positive cases of Coronavirus in England and Wales’ 99 prison establishments since the beginning of the pandemic.
However, the UK Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation does not currently list inmates and prison-staff in those who can apply for early vaccination.
The situation in US prisons is worse than that of the UK. As of November 16th, just under the same number as have tested positive in UK prisons have died from coronavirus-related complications, and over 200,000 individuals have tested positive for the disease, according to the New York times. The Association’s Public Health reference committee said that 19 out of 20 of the US’s largest Covid clusters are in prisons or jails, with a“growth rate that doubly outpaces the general population”.
As a result, the American Medical Association has echoed the Oxford study’s findings: a recent meeting saw overwhelming support for prison inmates and staff to be first in line for the vaccine. One medical student delegate from Tallahassee said that safety measures like physical distancing were “simply infeasible” in prison settings. Additionally, inmates’ mental health was a concern, with the Association’s Tiffany Bell of the Section Council on Psychiatry noting that 20% of inmates suffer from serious mental illness.
The Association also went a step further than the Oxford study, suggesting that inmates with a terminal illness and a life expectancy of less than twelve months should qualify for early release, allowing them to return home for the remainder of their lives and hopefully avoid contracting COVID-19.
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