Irish Penal Reform Trust

PRI: Why prioritising staff and prison populations for vaccination matters

18th February 2021

In a blog for Penal Reform International, Oxford University researchers (Ms Gabrielle Beaudry, Dr Daniel Whiting and Dr Seena Fazel) consider why prison populations and staff should be prioritised in national vaccination programmes, what is happening internationally so far, and the challenges to their inclusion in some places.

Considering why prison populations should be vaccinated, a systematic review completed by the researchers shows that people in prison often live in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions where social distancing and most infection mitigation strategies are largely unfeasible. Marginalised persons are disproportionately represented in this population, and this translates into high rates of underlying chronic diseases.

The notion that people in prison should be high up the priority list in the response to Covid-19 including vaccination may be regarded as controversial, but is based on evidence of risk and transmission. The physical environment, including overcrowding and poor ventilation, lends itself to rapid transmission, and makes simple transmission-prevention practices much more challenging. The social health inequalities highlighted by Covid-19 are mirrored in prison populations, and physical health vulnerabilities for severe Covid-19 are more common. 

Ultimately, the researchers note that while prioritisation for vaccination is critical to stop the spread of Covid-19, “considerable structural changes are required” to make prisons safe. This, they note, includes decarceration strategies to decrease the number of people held in prison and to allow for social distancing.

For more detail on what is happening internationally with regards to prisoner vaccination and the challenges to to their inclusion, read ‘Covid-19 in prisons: why prioritising staff and prison populations for vaccination matters’ on the Penal Reform International website here.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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