Following the Government’s rejection of prioritising vaccinations for prisons, multiple campaign groups and charities have called for a reversal in policy. Currently, the Government is set to vaccinate according to age cohorts, rather than by particular group or institutional setting.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is reported to have recommended that prisoners should be mass vaccinated. However, Downing Street has dismissed these claims as ‘not true’ commenting that prisoners will be vaccinated ‘at the same time as the general public’.
Responding to the Government’s decision, the director of the Prison Reform Trust described the move as ‘depressing and confusing’ to LBC’s Shelagh Fogarty. Peter Dawson told LBC that ‘prisons are dangerous places for disease’, noting the high rates of infections among both prisoners and staff due to the ‘confined’ working environment.
According to the most recent statistics from the Ministry of Justice, the number of newly confirmed cases has increased by 4,227 since December 2020. This brings the total number of prisoners who have tested positive for COVID-19, throughout the pandemic, to 10,354 and the number of deaths to 119.
Researchers at the University of Oxford and public health specialists have been among those arguing that, on public health grounds, prisons should be prioritised for the vaccine. Professor Seena Fazel described that due to the ‘high churn rates’ in prisons, prisoners are an important group to consider in vaccine prioritisation due to the higher risk of infection and increased prevalence of underlying health conditions.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, commented the prisons should be prioritised ‘given the risk that prisons pose as epidemiological pumps’. This is supported by research at the Nuffield Trust highlighting the increased infection risk in prisons. Up to July 2020, there were 7.6 cases per 1,000 population in prisons, compared to 4.9 in the English and Welsh populations overall.