Sask. inmates to start receiving COVID-19 vaccinations
A clinic will be set up at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon
Prisoners in Saskatchewan will start receiving doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine on Friday.
The federal government is distributing 600 doses to five clinics across the country, including the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon.
Correctional Services Canada told CBC in an emailed statement that doses will be prioritized by age and underlying medical conditions in accordance with the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) guidelines.
The Saskatchewan government says it is following the same recommendations, which state inmates should receive priority immunization.
But it remains unclear when the Saskatchewan government will roll out vaccinations for inmates in provincial correctional centres.
Saskatchewan residents who are part of certain vulnerable populations qualify for priority immunization under Phase 1 of the province's vaccine delivery plan, which is currently underway.
However, the Saskatchewan government did not answer whether older residents who are currently in provincial jails will be prioritized similarly to those in care homes.
"Inmates should be vaccinated and have some kind of treatment because they are in a confined population," said Sherry Maier, an advocate for prisoners who operates Beyond Prison Walls Canada.
There are currently 252 COVID-19 cases at Saskatchewan federal institutions, including 72 active cases at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary.
Maier says inmates are under lockdown for 23-and-a-half hours a day, with 30 minutes to wash up, do laundry or make phone calls.
"We can't continually keep these men locked up like this. Their mental health is deteriorating," Maier said. "Because they are in a confined space, they do need something to protect them."
Inmates skeptical of the vaccine
While the vaccine is a prized commodity to many, it's being viewed with skepticism by many within prison and jail walls, advocates say.
Maier says inmates often feel devalued by society because they are institutionalized. She says now they are being told they are on the priority list to receive something everyone in the world wants.
That's causing confusion for inmates who are questioning if it's safe to take at all, Maier said.
She added recent comments from Conservative Party Leader Erin O'Toole don't help either. He stated no criminal should be vaccinated ahead of other vulnerable populations.
Not one criminal should be vaccinated ahead of any vulnerable Canadian or front line health worker.<a href="https://t.co/4B22ELE2uf">https://t.co/4B22ELE2uf</a>—@erinotoole
"These guys are saying, 'Are we going to get the same vaccine as health-care workers? Are we going to get something different because the government wants to use us as guinea pigs?' They're asking, 'Why do they want to start with corrections, a place where society doesn't care about inmates?" Maier said.
Erica Violet Lee, a BIPOC and prisoners' rights activist, says it is common for Black and Indigenous people to be wary of vaccines.
"There's a history of Indigenous people [in Canada] being tested on without their consent," Lee said.
"The fact that prisoners are afraid to take the vaccine to me makes perfect sense, but at the same time, that's the job of the government and people who are working within the prison system as it is, until we dismantle it — to help people recognize the vaccine is something that is necessary."
The federal government was asked how it's educating prisoners on the COVID-19 vaccine, but has not yet provided a response.
Confronting systemic racism and COVID-19
As more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine come into the province, it will be critical to confront systemic racism, says Lee.
"It's very important [that] especially northern communities, Black communities, Indigenous populations, and poor communities are given access to the vaccine," Lee said.
"Just like anything else, this pandemic does discriminate. People in our communities are being affected in ways that are much deeper and have a historical background than your average, everyday white Canadian."
WATCH | Public Safety Minister Bill Blair on questions prison inmates receiving the COVID-19 vaccine: