The Bowden Institution medium security facility near Bowden, Alta., Thursday, March 19, 2020. Older and medically vulnerable inmates in federal prisons across Canada will be vaccinated starting on Jan. 8. (The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh)

Vaccination of federal inmates in Canada to begin Friday

Older and medically vulnerable inmates in federal prisons across Canada will begin being vaccinated on Friday, according to an announcement on Wednesday from Correctional Service Canada (CSC). 

In a press release, the CSC said that they expect to vaccinate about 600 inmates during the first phase of the vaccine rollout. They added that as further supply of the vaccine becomes available, it will be offered to all federal inmates based on the prioritization guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). 

“The health and safety of our employees, inmates, and the public is a top priority for the Correctional Service of Canada,” said the CSC Commissioner, Anne Kelly. “This is very welcome news, as we know vaccines are a critical way to limit the spread of COVID-19.”

The CSC said that they have been working closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada to respond to the pandemic, including providing vaccines to its inmates. 

As of Jan. 5, there have been a total of 1,149 positive inmate cases across Canada, including 144 active cases, according to the CSC’s website

In response to the news, Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole tweeted that “Not one criminal should be vaccinated ahead of any vulnerable Canadian or front line health worker.”

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair explained that the Canadian government is following the advice of the NACI to vaccinate elderly people and those with underlying health conditions living in congregate settings. 

“Prisons have been identified as a higher risk environment because recommended social distancing and other health measures can be more challenging in a custodial setting,” Blair said in a Twitter thread on Wednesday. 

The news has also garnered a response from the The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers. According to a press release from the union on Wednesday, the union said many questions remain unanswered before the vaccinations begin this Friday.

“We don’t have many details on what’s going to come next,” said National President of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers-CSN Jeff Wilkins.

“Will the Correctional Officers be vaccinated before any of the general population of inmates who are under 70 years of age? Will the vaccination take place in the workplace? Will CSC prioritize vaccinations where there are outbreaks?” 

The union is also demanding that correctional officers get vaccinated as soon as possible. Wilkins said that the union’s members are working in institutions that have been declared pandemic sites and that they are not being offered the vaccine for protection. 

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