H1N1 vaccine: Should inmates move up in line?
States are providing the H1N1 vaccine to high-risk groups, and in some cases that includes parts of the prison populations.
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Though high-risk inmates will be prioritized over some in the general prison population, in Massachusetts, as in Texas, they will not receive the vaccine at the same time as their non-incarcerated peers.Skip to next paragraph
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For example, the state "will be getting vaccine to pregnant women who are incarcerated as soon as we have been able to vaccinate a significant percentage of pregnant women overall" writes Mr. Jacob.
The idea that high-risk people inside prisons would be treated differently from those outside is "invidious and discriminatory," says Nancy Stoller, coordinator of the American Public Health Association's jail and prison health group.
Incarcerated individuals are at a higher risk for H1N1 than the general population, Ms. Stoller says, and therefore should receive vaccination priority.
Inmates' higher risk is largely due to the close proximity in which they are confined. They also tend to be more susceptible to H1N1 because of their age (the average jail population is under 30), and also because they tend to come from poorer backgrounds and therefore are less likely to have received regular medical attention.
"Not only do they have a higher risk of getting the flu, but they're more likely to have a more serious case," says Stoller.
Ohio has developed a tiered priority system within its correctional facilities once vaccination becomes available. The first wave of vaccinations will include pregnant women, those who have given birth while incarcerated, healthcare staff, 10 percent of the general staff, juveniles, and inmates with compromised immune systems. A second tier will provide for the rest of the prison staff and inmates.
But Ohio hasn't yet distributed any vaccinations for that first, high-risk tier. So despite having distributed 984,700 vaccinations thus far, Ohio has yet to vaccinate the 66 pregnant women currently in its prison system, or its healthcare staff.
"Sometimes, there's a lot of pressure on health departments to think of the health needs of prisoners as less important than the health needs of people outside," says Stoller.
But there's a concern that without vaccinations, correctional facilities may experience H1N1 epidemics. With the flow of visitors, staff, and inmates through prisons, that could put the general population at risk.
"Prisons are not sealed institutions," says Stoller. "Whatever happens in prisons will leak out."
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