Health Care

Vermont Conversation: Should prisoners get priority for vaccination?

Two vials on table; one is labeled "Moderna Covid-19 vaccine"
Vials of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine are prepared for injection at a clinic in Beecher Falls on March 29, 2021. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

The Vermont Conversation with David Goodman is a VTDigger podcast that features in-depth interviews on local and national issues with politicians, activists, artists, changemakers and citizens who are making a difference. Listen below, and subscribe on Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts or Spotify to hear more.

“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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David Goodman

About David

David Goodman is an award-winning journalist and the author of a dozen books, including four New York Times bestsellers that he co-authored with his sister, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman. His work has appeared in Mother Jones, New York Times, Outside, Boston Globe and other publications. He is the host of The Vermont Conversation, a VTDigger podcast featuring in-depth interviews about local and national topics. The Vermont Conversation is also an hour-long weekly radio program that can be heard on Wednesday at 1 p.m. on WDEV/Radio Vermont.

Email: [email protected]

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