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Tennessee panel calls vaccine inmates a “PR nightmare”

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) – A Tennessee Advisory Committee tasked with deciding how residents should receive the COVID-19 vaccine acknowledged that inmates in the state are at high risk, but concluded that prioritizing them for inoculation could be “public.” nightmare for relationships. ”

The result: Prisoners are in the last group scheduled for vaccines in the state, although the Pandemic Vaccine Planning Group concluded that “if left untreated, they will be a vector of widespread population,” according to closed-door committee meetings received from the Associated Press. To date, there is no exact schedule for the introduction of vaccines in prison.

The debate in Tennessee reflects a problem that countries across the country face when launching life-saving vaccines: whether to prioritize a population perceived by many at best as separate from the public and at worst as unworthy. . Resistance is coming, although medical experts have said since the beginning of the pandemic that prisoners are at extremely high risk of infection because they live in extremely close contact with each other and have little ability for social distance.

“It shows a lack of morale and a lack of empathy to allow someone to die or put them at greater risk because they happen to be in prison. … Before anyone has ever been imprisoned, they were first someone̵

7;s child, mother, brother, father or sister and they remain so and must be treated, cared for and treated as such, “said Jani Alexander, CEO of Without Exceptions. Prison Collective, a base organization in Nashville.

Just a few months ago, when COVID-19 cases jumped in the United States, the Associated Press and the Marshall Project measured cumulative levels of infection among the prison population. The analysis found that by mid-December, 1 in 5 U.S. and federal prisoners in the United States had tested positive for coronavirus, which is more than four times higher than the general population. Since then, the cases have been declining, but remain higher than the general population.

Tennessee ranks 24th in the country in cases of COVID-19 prisoners. To date, 1 in 3 of the state’s inmates – more than 38,800 in total – have tested positive for the virus since the outbreak began spreading nearly a year ago. More than 40 prisoners have died from COVID-19.

So far, the state has inoculated an unknown number of correctional officers – Tennessee does not publish this information like other states, but there are no prisoners. Twenty-four states have allowed at least some of their prison population to be vaccinated, including those who have qualified according to the state’s age guidelines or had pre-existing health conditions, according to the AP and the Marshall Project.

Sometimes in the last year, some of the largest coronavirus clusters in the United States have been in Tennessee prisons, with hundreds of active cases in multiple facilities.

In the spring, Trousdale Turner Correctional, a private prison run by Tennessee-based CoreCivic, saw that approximately half of the 2,444 inmates were positive for coronavirus, while more than 1,100 inmates at the South Central Correctional Facility with a capacity of 1,700 developed the virus. As of Friday, the state had reported only 17 positive cases of prisoners. The visit has been suspended for months. The population of state prisons is around 30,000, and local prisons contain about 19,000.

Documents from the Pandemic Vaccine Planning Group meetings in fact emphasize the importance of the general public seeing that prisoners are “people” who should be treated as “part of the community” and “if left untreated, a vector of general transmission of the population. However, the documents acknowledge that providing the vaccine to prisoners would lead to “many media inquiries”.

The panel consists of about 40 public health agencies, legislators, health coalitions, emergency management and other organizations. Because he serves as a consultant, Tennessee law does not require public meetings and there are no audio recordings of the meetings, according to the Department of Health. The AP received notes on the meeting by requesting public records.

According to documents, the group met for the first time on September 22, before vaccines became available. Tennessee’s closed population emerged during this meeting when the committee spoke of populations that could be ignored.

“Understand that this would be a nightmare (for public relations), but a possible responsibility for the state,” said a document that is not attributed to anyone by name.

Later in December, when the group met to discuss the relocation of certain age groups, as well as teachers, the prisoners were re-examined.

“If we are hit hard in prisons, it affects the whole community. The disease leaves correctional facilities and returns to the general community until the prisoners are released from their sentences, “the document said, adding that when prisoners fall ill,” taxpayers must take care of treatment. “

Eventually, repair workers and jailers were pushed to one of the earliest slots, along with the first responders. Meanwhile, the prisoners remained in the last eligible group. Even now, adult prisoners who can qualify for the state’s age qualification are still not immunized.

Tennessee currently ranks 47th in the United States in the number of people vaccinated in the general population. Of the state’s 7 million people, more than 14 percent received at least one dose of the vaccine, while more than 7 percent received both shots, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the last few weeks, the state has increased vaccine eligibility. From next week, the vaccine will be available to people aged 16 and over who have pre-existing conditions, such as cancer, hypertension, obesity and pregnancy, as well as carers and residents of households with fragile children.

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