Vulnerable inmates in federal prisons receive COVID-19 vaccines

The discussion has sparked debate among politicians and prison advocates

PHOTO: RODNAE Productions / Pexels

Written by: Michelle Young, News Editor 

Canada has begun vaccinating at-risk inmates against COVID-19. Though there aren’t currently any active COVID-19 cases in facilities where vaccines are administered, the 

Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) explained that they chose these facilities “because they’re home to inmates deemed priorities for receiving the vaccine — namely the elderly and medically vulnerable.”

The CSC currently “expects to vaccinate approximately 600 inmates in the first phase” and stated that as more vaccines become available, all federal inmates will receive the vaccine, according to priority guidelines. However, there are mixed opinions on who is receiving priority vaccinations. 

Sherri Maier, who advocates for prisoner rights, stated in Global News that prisoners are more vulnerable because they’re kept in small spaces. She added that “they still have rights and they still deserve to be protected.”

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair also explained at a press conference that those who become seriously ill from COVID-19 use federal resources, such as hospital beds, and it would be best to “deal with those individuals at greatest risk of getting [COVID-19] and at greatest risk of having serious health consequences as a result.”

Others have stated that they feel as if inmates are being used as “guinea pigs.” 

Some Canadian politicians have also voiced concerns — but for other reasons. Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole and Ontario Premier Doug Ford have both expressed their disagreement with prioritizing vulnerable inmates ahead of other Canadians who are at-risk. Ford stated that vaccines should not be given to “the most dangerous criminals in our country [ . . . ] before we give it to our long-term care patients and most vulnerable.” Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs is also concerned with who is receiving the vaccine. She told Global News, “In the reality of limited supply, of scarce supply, what we are saying is that [long-term care residents and frontline health-care workers] should be put ahead of incarcerated inmates.” 

The CSC stated that their vaccination strategy aligns with the guidelines put out by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and “is consistent with past public health situations, such as H1N1, during which a similar process was followed.” 

Anne Kelly, CSC commissioner stated in a news release that “the health and safety of our employees, inmates, and the public is a top priority for the Correctional Service of Canada [ . . . ] We will continue working with our public health partners, unions and stakeholders to roll out measures that help protect everyone during this public health pandemic.”     

COVID-19 vaccinations can be viewed on The Government of Canada’s tracker.