Prison inmates to start getting COVID-19 vaccines this week

INMATES across the island are expected to begin receiving COVID-19 jabs this week although more than 80 per cent of this vulnerable population are opposed to vaccination against the coronavirus.

The revelation was made by minister without portfolio in the Ministry of National Security Senator Matthew Samuda during a brief interview with the Jamaica Observer Tuesday.

“We will begin with… prisoners who have indicated willingness this week. The vaccine hesitancy [among prisoners] is high and unfortunate. An estimate of those hesitant is above 80 per cent. We do, however, expect it to fall precipitously once the process commences,” said Samuda.

More than 100,000 people have been vaccinated across the country since the Government began its vaccination blitz in March following a spike in daily cases. Priority groups at that time included health-care workers, seniors and members of the security forces.

On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) urged countries not to ignore those in correctional facilities, arguing that immunisation in detention facilities can play a big role in reducing inequities in countries.

“People living and working in prisons should not be neglected as national programmes of COVID-19 vaccination roll out globally,” the WHO said.

The organisation said research it conducted showed that the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is higher in prisons, where people live close to each other and have limited access to testing and personal protective equipment.

Compared to the wider community, WHO said people living in prisons have a disproportionally higher burden of comorbidities, including non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which increases their chances of suffering severe outcomes from COVID-19.

Samuda acknowledged that the population is a vulnerable one and said that the Government remains optimistic that aversion to vaccination, which is not mandatory, will subside.

“The population in our correctional facilities is particularly vulnerable. As such, we think the population must be vaccinated. We are hopeful that the hesitancy will subside,” he said.

There are close to 4,000 prisoners at correctional facilities across the island.

Meanwhile, WHO said as COVID-19 vaccines become available, the inclusion of people living and working in prisons in national immunisation programmes is not being universally adopted.

It said even though good practice exists in many countries, the diversity of criteria adopted between and within countries puts equality of health protection at risk. The organisation said that is essential to understand that loss of freedom should not lead to loss of health.

– Kimone Francis

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