H1N1 Vaccine: Should Inmates Move Up in Line?

Article excerpt

Should those in prison and jails across the country receive priority status for getting the H1N1 vaccine? With vaccines in short supply, it's become a difficult issue for public health departments and correctional facilities across the country. Earlier this week, the White House had to rebut erroneous reports that the vaccine had been given to detainees at the Guantanamo prison camp in Cuba. "There is no vaccine in Guantanamo and there's no vaccine on the way to Guantanamo," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs at a press briefing. But a cohesive national strategy seems lacking. Local departments of public health are deferring to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for establishing high-priority groups. According to the CDC, vaccination planning is a state issue. The nation's top public health agency issues recommendations, but "states are in charge of vaccinations," says CDC spokesman Tom Skinner. Though the CDC has acknowledged that certain settings - including prisons, schools, day care centers, and universities, among others - may increase the risk of contracting the H1N1 virus, they do not give vaccine priority to those groups. Instead, they limit priority to those with individual risk factors, including pregnant women, those who care for young children, individuals younger than 24, healthcare workers, or people with certain underlying health conditions. "Certain settings may increase the risk of infections, but we haven't prioritized vaccinations for those settings," says Mr. Skinner. "Our recommendations are based on population risk factors." Many states, including Massachusetts and Ohio, have decided to prioritize those at high risk in the general population over those in prison. In Texas, the Department of State Health Services says it will vaccinate all high-risk individuals at the same time, regardless of whether or not they're incarcerated. But while they have begun vaccinating the high-risk general population, they have not done the same for high-risk inmates. "It's all a question of vaccine availability," said John Jacob, a spokesperson with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in an e-mail. "As soon as significant enough quantities have arrived in the state and have begun to be distributed to high-risk groups in the general population such as adults 25-64 with underlying conditions, some vaccine will begin to be distributed to those same high-risk populations within prisons." Though high-risk inmates will be prioritized over some in the general prison population, in Massachusetts, as in Texas, they will not receive the vaccine at the same time as their non-incarcerated peers. …