‘High-risk settings’ in our jails means prisoners must get priority for coronavirus vaccines

Prison bars
Support us and go ad-free

Researchers have recommended prisoners be prioritised for the coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccine, after finding it’s difficult to manage outbreaks.

Academics from the University of Oxford conducted a review of how prisons manage outbreaks of contagious diseases. They found that several factors, including higher rates of other health problems, fear of quarantine, and overcrowding, make it more difficult to control virus transmission.

The researchers concluded that vaccinating prisoners early would help to solve these problems.

Professor Seena Fazel, one of the researchers, said:

Prisons are high-risk settings for the transmission of contagious diseases and there are considerable challenges in managing outbreaks in them. Our research suggests that people in prison should be among the first groups to receive any COVID-19 vaccine to protect against infection and to prevent further spread of the disease.

The prison population is generally at higher risk of complications from infection because of the increased prevalence of underlying health conditions, and the overrepresentation of marginalised groups that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. A public health approach to managing COVID-19 in prisons is important now and for any future infectious disease outbreaks.

The research

The study analysed 28 different investigations of disease outbreaks such as influenza. All of the research included was conducted in high-income countries.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

Analysis found that contact tracing was difficult in prisons due to the stigma associated with disclosing symptoms. Furthermore, prisoners feared being isolated in quarantine if they showed symptoms. Many prisons studied were overcrowded, with poor sanitation and ventilation, making quarantine measures difficult.

Additionally, prisoners are more likely to have mental and physical health problems that compound virus vulnerability.

As a result, the researchers recommended weighing costs and benefits of preventative strategies up and keeping prisoners and staff more informed about health measures. They also said released prisoners should have access to safe housing so they are less likely to pass on the virus.

Coronavirus in prisons

There have been several outbreaks of coronavirus in prisons across the world. According to the New York Times250,000 people in US jails and prisons have contracted coronavirus. This has led to 1,450 deaths among inmates and correctional officers.

After mass outbreaks in California, prisoners told the Guardian that basic preventative measures had been ignored. Some said they didn’t have access to medicine, masks, or doctors.

In the UK, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has reported 55 coronavirus-related deaths, and 1,529 positive tests.

Sheppey Isle in Kent recently saw “a number of positive cases” in its three prisons, HMP Elmley, Swaleside, and Standford Hill, which hold about 2,500 prisoners. The MoJ has not disclosed the specific amount of positive cases. But on 20 November, Kent Live reported that “more than 100 coronavirus cases have been confirmed across all three of Swale’s prisons this week”.

Conditions on the inside

Speaking to The Canary in March, prison campaigners said they were concerned for the safety and wellbeing of inmates.

Prisoners were in strict lockdown measures, spending 23-hours a day in their cells and with loved ones unable to visit.  Several campaigners said they didn’t think many prisons had the capacity for social distancing or strict hygiene measures.

In October, the Prison Reform Trust and the Howard League wrote to lord chancellor Robert Buckland about coronavirus prison outbreaks. They asked for more transparency on prison health policy, as well as releasing prisoners earlier to create space.

In the letter, heads Peter Dawson and Frances Crook said:

We recognise and applaud the effort that so many within the prison service have made to keep people safe from the virus over the last 6 months. But the fact remains that they are having to make that effort in a system which is needlessly overcrowded, denying prisons the physical and operational space which would otherwise allow for regimes that were both safe and humane.

We are very concerned that even the modest relief afforded by the interruption to normal court activity will soon be eroded, and that you have no plan of which we are aware to deal with that predictable change.

Featured image via Flickr/Dave Nakayama

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. I would quite like our 650 MPs to be first in the queue for this. After all, they are usually first in the queue for any other handouts. Then they could all be in parliament to do their jobs properly, instead of just voting along party lines. They could even be there over the Christmas holidays, as there is a rather important matter of Brexit to be sorted.
      We would also know that it might be safe. A doctor on the radio this morning said we still didn’t know, it wasn’t the panacaa we thought it was, but if anything was seen to go wrong the rollout could be stopped instantly.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.