Backlash Against Vaccinating Inmates in Some States

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A newspaper op-ed argued that Colorado’s coronavirus vaccination plan would wrongly help a man who killed four people before it protected the author’s law-abiding 78-year-old father. On social media, the accusation that state leaders were coddling convicts like Nathan Dunlap, serving a life term for slayings at a restaurant, caught fire, with a prosecutor calling the state’s vaccination plan “crazy.” The plan putting inmates ahead of the elderly and those with chronic conditions came from the state’s medical advisory group — physicians, public health officials and experts in bioethics. Their framework quickly unraveled, the Washington Post reports. Gov. Jared Polis said there was “no way” the limited supply of shots would “go to prisoners before it goes to people who haven’t committed any crime.” A revised plan released a week later put prisoners in no particular phase. The shift was a sign that prisons and jails, which disproportionately hold people of color and have reported virulent virus outbreaks, are creating dilemmas for state leaders.

About a dozen states take a approach like Colorado’s, says the Prison Policy Initiative. Some, including New Jersey and Washington, have begun vaccinating inmates. Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Mexico and Pennsylvania put inmates after health-care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Plans in half the states suggest some inmates will gain access before the general population. “It’s a very stigmatized population” and critics say inmates “must have done something terrible, and they don’t deserve a place in line,” said Matthew Wynia of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado, an advisory panel member. “We are advocating across the country for corrections officers to be among the first to receive the vaccine,” said Matt Weidman of Teamsters Local 773 in Pennsylvania, the Wall Street Journal reports. “They’re doing front-line work. It’s just behind a prison wall.”

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