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Health

Tennessee prisoners in last vax group over fear of PR nightmare – Business Insider

Prisoners in the state of Tennessee were placed last on the list of eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine after an advisory council feared a “public relations nightmare” should they be given priority access, the Associated Press reported.

According to the report, published Saturday, the Pandemic Vaccine Planning Stakeholder group, the council tasked with forming recommendations for the state’s vaccine rollout, noted that incarcerated people would “be a vector of general population transmission” if left “untreated.” 

The advisory council first met in September 2020 and consists of 40 public health agencies, healthcare coalitions, public officials, emergency management, and other organizations, according to the Associated Press report.

Some corrections staff have been vaccinated, according to the report, but the exact number in the state of Tennessee is not publicly available. No prisoners have yet been vaccinated, according to the report. 

The Tennessee Department of Health did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment Saturday.

The Tennessee vaccination plan includes incarcerated people in Phase 3 of its vaccination plan, behind healthcare workers, first responders, teachers, people with high-risk conditions, and corrections facility staff. Inmates who currently qualify to receive the vaccine due to their age have not yet been vaccinated, according to the AP report Saturday.

Documents obtained by the Associated Press showed that the advisory council concluded there would be “lots of media inquiries” had it opted to prioritize immunizations for incarcerated people, even though it contended that inmates were “part of the community,” according to the report.

Throughout the pandemic, incarcerated people in the US have been at a heightened risk of contracting the novel coronavirus, while advocates have complained about conditions at jails and prisons that have put inmates at the heightened risk.

In July 2020, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that prisoners were infected by COVID-19 at a rate over five times higher than the general population. In December, a report from The Marshall Project and the AP found that 1 in 5 prisoners in the US had contracted COVID-19, compared to about 1 in 20 people in the general population. More than 1,700 inmates have died of the virus, also as of December. 

In Tennessee, one in three prisoners has tested positive for COVID-19, according to data from the AP and from the Marshall Project. 

The Associated Press report Saturday emphasizes the longstanding debate about the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the US, and in particular the rollout of vaccines in incarcerated populations. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued general guidance, states ultimately control vaccine eligibility. 

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