WASHINGTON (Reuters) – More than two dozen members of the U.S. Congress on Wednesday called on federal prison and health officials for details about how inmates will be vaccinated for COVID-19, questioning whether the most vulnerable prisoners will have priority access.
In a letter to Federal Bureau of Prisons director Michael Carvajal and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief Dr. Robert Redfield, 26 lawmakers, led by Democratic Representative Bobby Scott, expressed concerns about the prison system’s existing plan for vaccine distribution.
“We are deeply concerned that the current plan places the most vulnerable incarcerated individuals … behind incarcerated individuals in minimum security facilities” the Congress members’ letter said. It said that under present plans, prisoners “who are in open bay housing” would get the virus before prisoners under tighter incarceration.
The Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“COVID-19 is spreading four times faster in prisons than the general public,” the letter said, adding that “the virus is moving through the prison population three times faster than it did on commercial cruise ships at the start of the pandemic.”
The pandemic has already killed more than 300,000 people across the United States and infection rates have hit record highs with the return of cold weather, even as the first, limited round of vaccinations began this week.
Prisoners and prison employees are at high risk of transmitting the virus due to close conditions.
The letter asks for details on how prison authorities and public health officials are collaborating to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are expeditiously administered to prisoners and requests details for when prison staff, prisoners in high-risk infection categories and then all individuals now held in federal prisons will get vaccinations.