Fury Erupts Over H1N1 Shots for Prisoners

Tamara Lytle

(Oct. 29) — While children, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems wait in hours-long lines for H1N1 vaccines, some of their counterparts behind bars have no such hassle.

Prisoners who fall into high-risk categories for swine flu will get the shots even while some members of the general public who are not high risk must wait until more of the precious doses are available.

And that has some people hopping mad.

“I have twin 2-year-olds that were three months premature and a 2-month baby, and I cannot get the vaccine for them,” wrote one commenter on the Web site of The Beaumont Enterprise, a Texas newspaper. “It’s ridiculous that inmates would get it before people who are at high risk for it.”

Another added, “There is something very wrong with a government who would care for convicted criminals before hard-working taxpayers.”

Massachusetts state Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, vice chairman of the Public Health Committee, was not surprised at the response at all. “If you want to get people angry,” he said, “tell them someone in prison for a very violent felony is going to get it before their grandmother in a nursing home.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines to states listing categories of people who are highest priority for receiving vaccinations against the virulent influenza strain known as swine flu. Christopher Cox, spokesman for the CDC, said the high priority guidance applies to higher-risk people whether they are in a prison, a homeless shelter, a school or a nursing home.

“What we’re looking at is vulnerability to getting sick and dying of H1N1. That’s what we’re trying to prevent,” he said.

That has raised eyebrows in states like Massachusetts and Texas, because criminals with health issues may end up getting the shot before the general public.

“Hopefully once the supplies start rolling in in greater numbers, they will be able to expand that to the general public,” Cox said.

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