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“From the beginning,” Gov. Phil Scott said of Vermont’s Covid-19 response, “we have consistently used data and science to guide our decisions.”
But when it comes to following public health guidance, the governor appears to have made an exception for one group: prisoners. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends priority vaccination of corrections staff and incarcerated people at the same time “because of their shared increased risk of disease.” And last month, Vermont’s Covid-19 Vaccine Implementation Advisory Committee called on the administration to “immediately amend its vaccination policies to provide access to Covid-19 vaccines to all incarcerated individuals in its care.” The advisory group includes more than two dozen health care providers and advocates.
Last month, Scott refused this guidance and declared that prisoners “will be vaccinated like anybody else, with the age banding.” This was despite an outbreak of Covid-19 at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport, the state’s largest prison, where 179 inmates — more than half of the prison population — were infected, along with two dozen corrections officers.
A handful of states, including Massachusetts, have prioritized vaccinations for prisoners, but many states have failed to vaccinate their high-risk prison populations. Nationwide, fewer than one in five state and federal prisoners have been vaccinated, according to data collected by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press.
We discuss the question of vaccinating prisoners with four guests: Vermont Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker; Dr. Simi Ravven, president of the Vermont Medical Society; Mike Fisher, chief health care advocate at Vermont Legal Aid and member of the Covid-19 Vaccine Implementation Advisory Committee; and Steffen Gillom, president of the Windham County chapter of the NAACP.
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