Ottawa

Lack of trust, information driving low vaccination rate at Ottawa jail, advocate says

As the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) struggles with a large COVID-19 outbreak, one advocate says public health officials aren't doing enough to ensure inmates are vaccinated.

As OCDC struggles with COVID-19 outbreak, only about 35% of inmates vaccinated

The Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre is currently in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

As the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) struggles with a large COVID-19 outbreak, one advocate says public health officials aren't doing enough to ensure inmates are vaccinated.

At least 27 inmates and two staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Innes Road jail during this outbreak.

"We warned that this was a possibility, and now ... something that we predicted has happened and people are paying the consequences," said Justin Piché, an associate professor in the department of criminology at the University of Ottawa.

There is certainly a lack of trust in the health care that is offered behind bars, which feeds into decisions about whether or not to take a vaccine.- Justin Piché, University of Ottawa

Piché said the jail hotline he helps run has been hearing from dozens of inmates who are hesitant about getting vaccinated, something he attributes to a lack of trust in the health-care system.

"A number of folks who are incarcerated have lived with mental health and drug use issues and have had, as a result of discriminatory treatment outside prison walls, adverse health-care experiences," Piché said.

"So there is certainly a lack of trust in the health care that is offered behind bars, which feeds into decisions about whether or not to take a vaccine."

Justin Piché is an associate professor in the department of criminology at the University of Ottawa and a member of the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project. (Submitted by Justin Piché)

Low vaccination rates

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has been targeting some of the city's hardest-hit and most vulnerable populations for vaccination, reaching out to communities in their own language to provide education and resources. OPH has also held pop-up clinics to boost vaccination rates in some neighbourhoods.

But Piché said that same consideration hasn't been extended to inmates, who have limited access to such information.

Inmates became eligible to book a vaccination under Phase 2 of the province's rollout, but OCDC inmates have only been offered doses through three mobile clinics that started May 18. OCDC staff were offered a first dose on April 29.

Piché wrote to OPH on March 26, giving suggestions on how to best provide information to inmates — including having members of the jail hotline speak one-on-one with them.

Only 152 of the approximately 400 inmates at OCDC, or about 38 per cent of the inmate population, received their first dose at those clinics. By comparison, 64 per cent of adults in Ottawa had received a first dose as of Wednesday, according to OPH.

Piché said some inmates have expressed concerns about which vaccines are being offered, as well as potential side effects.

Jail's responsibility, city says

Anthony Di Monte, the city's general manager of emergency and protective services, told CBC that while he agrees inmates are a marginalized group, public health officials had to work within the strict rules and confines of the institution.

"We don't go necessarily directly to all the inmates. It's the institution that has that responsibility," he said.

In a statement, OPH said it worked with OCDC to provide information to inmates, including ensuring they provide informed consent prior to being immunized.

Before giving a vaccine, staff "must review with the client the vaccine they are receiving, the risk/benefits of vaccination and what they can expect following vaccination. Any other medical risks .... or medical considerations are also assessed to ensure the safety of the client," OPH wrote.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the current outbreak is the largest in the city.
    Jun 04, 2021 11:37 AM ET

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