NY starts COVID vaccinations for medically frail inmates, some older ones
New York is beginning to vaccinate medically frail and some older inmates for coronavirus, amid dismay from advocates over the dearth of vaccine distribution in prisons as COVID-19 cases there rise.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday the vaccine will be given to people in the prison system who are 65 and older, as well as those who are considered medically frail.
"We are vaccinating people in prisons on the same basis that we're vaccinating people" in the general public, Cuomo said.
There are 1,075 people who are in the prison system who are 65 and older, according to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the state agency that oversees the prison system.
More than 5,100 incarcerated people have contracted coronavirus in New York prisons, DOCCS said Wednesday. More than 30 incarcerated individuals have died of coronavirus.
Word of the vaccine being given to some inmates came amid mounting pressure from public defenders, incarcerated individuals and advocates to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance that correctional staff and incarcerated people be vaccinated at the same time.
Last month, the governor allowed correctional staff to be vaccinated in a grouping that included congregate settings such as homeless shelters. Incarcerated people were not listed in that grouping on the state's website.
Public defenders and others recently sued the governor and the state health commissioner, saying that the denial of the vaccine to the incarcerated population is a constitutional violation.
The coalition also argued that not offering the vaccination to that group conflicts with the state's goals of ensuring equitable vaccine access for Black and brown communities and across class lines.
The move toward vaccinating some incarcerated people is a move in the right direction, even if there is still more work to be done to ensure that it's given to the entire population, according to Release Aging People in Prison Campaign Community Leader Theresa Grady.
"Vaccine access must also be broadened to the entire incarcerated population, just like it is available for all corrections officers," Grady said.
Some lawmakers, though, criticized the state's decision, saying the scarce supply of vaccine should first be distributed elsewhere.
“The Cuomo administration’s foolish decision to allow inmates to be vaccinated against COVID-19 while vulnerable New Yorkers must wait their turn, whenever that will be, for the life-saving vaccine is outrageous, shameful, and nonsensical," Sen. Daphne Jordan, a Saratoga County Republican, said in a statement.