Dec 11, 2020 | NEWS | By Psalm Delaney | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian
On Dec. 1, Gov. Jared Polis denounced Colorado’s draft plan for the distribution of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
Pending approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, states across the U.S. have drafted distribution plans to effectively combat the spread of the virus.
Colorado’s drafted plan placed prison inmates at a higher priority for the vaccine than adults over the age of sixty-five and adults with underlying health conditions.
Prison inmates were included in category 2A, which was comprised of individuals who live in congregate housing and essential workers, while higher-risk individuals were placed in category 2B.
Governor Polis announced his disagreement with the state’s draft, saying, “There’s no way that prisoners are going to get it before members of a vulnerable population. There’s no way it’s going to go to prisoners before it goes to people who haven’t committed any crime.”
Public health experts and prison advocacy groups condemn his perspective and emphasize that incarcerated populations are at a substantially higher risk of infection due to close-confinement, limited access to medical care, inadequate access to hygiene supplies, and increased rates of underlying conditions.
According to the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC), 5,632 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 and 14 inmates have died from coronavirus symptoms since the start of the pandemic. As of Dec. 7, there are a total of 2,152 active cases in CDOC facilities.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado has advocated against the state’s management of the virus in its correctional facilities. In November, they sued Polis and CDOC for their failure to take adequate precautions for prison inmates.
Currently, the ACLU is pursuing a restraining order against Gov. Polis to ensure that Colorado prison populations will be decreased.
“The lawsuit is based on the risk of prisoners from contracting COVID-19. The social distancing is what’s needed and can’t be provided with the current populations and the current facilities,” said ACLU’s lawyer, Mark Silverstein.
Public health experts believe that vaccinating prisoners is critical to the effective mitigation of COVID-19 in Colorado.
According to The Marshall Project, prisons “incubate and seed the virus back into the general community.”
The public policy director for Colorado’s ACLU said, according to The Marshall Project, “If the governor doesn’t care about the individuals in prison, he should care about the people that work there.” Prison employees work in the facilities, return home, and interact with their communities, thus increasing the potential spread of the virus.
Holly Taylor, Bioethicist with the National Institutes of Health, said, according to The Marshall Project, that decisions about vaccine distribution “ought to be driven by epidemiology and where the likelihood of minimizing harm is most likely.”
“From that perspective,” she said, “incarcerated populations ought to be high on the list.”
When drafting the plan, Colorado ensured its sole commitment to objectively mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.
The state wrote, “At no point should decisions to deny vaccines be based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, ability to pay, disability status, national origin, primary language, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV status, religion, veteran status, ‘VIP’ status, housing status, or criminal history other than as described in the vaccination phases.”
According to the Colorado Sun, the ACLU of Colorado has not yet considered if it will bring legal action against Polis if he removes incarcerated individuals from the rest of category 2A, which includes individuals who reside in congregate housing.