Is AMA right that inmates should receive COVID vaccine first?


Fact Box

  • As of November 18, there have been 11.8 million coronavirus cases in the United States, with 255,712 reported deaths. 
  • Monday, November 9, Pfizer and Biontech announced a potential vaccine against coronavirus as “more than 90% effective in preventing the virus” in a study with 43,538 participants.
  • The American Medical Association (AMA) has stated their preference for “correctional workers, incarcerated people, and detained immigrants” to receive the vaccine in the first distribution. They mentioned the increased risk of high-density populations as their motivation.
  • According to Statista, there are 1.5 million prisoners in the United States. 
  • The Marshall Project reported 182,776 prisoners had tested positive for coronavirus while 1,412 had died since March.

Kevin (Yes)

Due to the nature of prison and jail conditions--and the way inmates are crowded together in small, enclosed spaces--prisoners are 'especially vulnerable' to infection. Because of extremely close quarters, social distancing is 'impossible,' which has resulted in what inmates call 'weaponized' social distancing rules, as overzealous corrections officers 'can enforce any new rule in any way they want.' No matter what an inmate may be jailed for, condemnation to death from a COVID infection wasn't part of the sentence, as it has been shown that those in prison are 'twice as likely to die' from the virus. Nineteen of the country's 20 largest COVID clusters have occurred in institutions, and the rate of infection 'doubly outpaces the general population.' Furthermore, a Texas report shows that 80% of COVID-19 deaths in county jails occurred amongst those who hadn't even been convicted of any crime and died while awaiting trial.

It is also worth considering that facilities across the nation face outbreaks. The staff working in these prisons and jails are also in danger and could spread the virus through their communities if infected. As of November 13th, tens of thousands of prison workers, including the officers, wardens, medical staff, and others, have been publicly reported to have tested positive; additionally, there have been at least 93 deaths reported among them. These numbers are likely higher in reality because most states are only counting workers 'who voluntarily report a diagnosis, often in the course of calling out sick.' For these reasons, inmates should absolutely be among the first to receive the COVID vaccine. 

Bill (No)

The AMA's recommendation that inmates should receive the COVID vaccine first is misguided. The emphasis on introducing a COVID vaccine is inappropriate--most people who test positive for the illness experience only mild symptoms and rarely require hospitalization. COVID 'case' numbers should not be the metric that drives public policy--hospitalizations and deaths are much better indicators of the coronavirus' severity. The cumulative hospitalization rate for COVID is less than .22% (i.e., 217.2 hospitalizations per 100,000 population), and the survival rate for Americans under the age of 70 who test positive is ~ 99.9%.  

Because the prison survival rate for COVID cases is 99.23%, there is no urgency for a vaccine. Moreover, prison inmates should not be prioritized over law-abiding citizens for preventive treatment. Instead, federal resources to combat the spread of COVID should be directed toward promoting better health for at-risk citizens with compromised immune systems and to nursing homes and long-term care facilities to safeguard the elderly.

In general, vaccines have produced harmful effects, including neurological disorders, joint-related maladies, and autoimmune diseases. So, rather than focusing on rolling out a COVID vaccine to inmates, the AMA should consider other less invasive measures of protecting prison populations, such as separating high-risk inmates with existing comorbidities like cancer, kidney disease, COPD, obesity, type 2 diabetes, etc., from its general population. The AMA should also support installing restaurant-like partitions to ensure social distancing in prison common areas to reduce the virus' transmission.

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