February 18, 2021
ICYMI: KANSAS HAS AN OBLIGATION TO MEET PRISONERS’ HEALTH NEEDS, INCLUDING THE COVID VACCINE
Topeka, KS – Kansas is currently in Phase 2 of Governor Laura Kelly’s vaccination plan, which prioritizes “individuals age 65 and older, those in congregate settings, and high-contact critical workers.” Members of the Kansas legislature have recently politicized vaccinations of those residing in congregate settings, and have demanded “prisoners not receive the vaccination in Phase 2.” Data indicates that this logic is “flawed” and creates a dangerous environment and creates “great risk for not only the facility staff and residents, but also to others in the community, with whom they have daily contact.”
Despite Kansas GOP’s reckless attempt to politicize Governor Kelly’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Kelly continues to do the right thing by putting public health before politics.
Read more about the need to vaccinate prisoners here:
The devastation brought by the COVID-19 pandemic around the world and in the United States has been unimaginable, in human as well as economic costs. As of early February, U.S. cases have exceeded 27 million and more than 470,000 of our moms, dads, grandparents and friends have been lost to a virus that a small but vocal minority have previously referred to as a hoax, resisting common-sense public health policies and strategies to contain the virus and minimize our losses.
Members of that small but vocal minority have sharply criticized Gov. Laura Kelly and state public health leaders for the evidence-based vaccine prioritization schedule that is being implemented in Kansas. The five-phase vaccine prioritization policy, as it is being implemented, prioritizes vaccine for those who are at the greatest risk of serious illness or death, should they become infected.
Kansas is currently in Phase 2 of the plan, which prioritizes individuals age 65 and older, those in congregate settings, and high-contact critical workers. Vaccination of individuals in congregate settings has recently become politicized, as members of the Kansas legislature demanded that prisoners not receive vaccination in Phase 2. Their rationale has been that “law abiding citizens” are more deserving than those who reside in Kansas’ prisons.
This “logic” is flawed for several reasons. Correctional facilities are COVID-19 hot spots. Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) data indicates that, as of Feb. 1, more than 5,900 residents (68%) of KDOC facilities have become infected with COVID-19, along with over 1,200 KDOC facility staff; 19 deaths have occurred among those infected. This reflects a great risk not only to facility staff and residents, but also to others in the community, with whom they have daily contact.
The Supreme Court has upheld that “when the State takes a person into its custody and holds him there against his will, the Constitution imposes upon it a corresponding duty to assume some responsibility for his safety and general well-being.”
We have an obligation to care for the health needs of those whom we incarcerate and cannot treat them as less deserving of disease prevention measures like the COVID-19 vaccine. To confirm this obligation, the American Medical Association recently said that people behind bars “should be prioritized in receiving access to safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines in the initial phases of distribution.”
Many of the legislators who would withhold vaccine from residents of our correctional facilities would self-identify as “constitutional conservatives.” There is nothing constitutional nor conservative about their call to withhold a lifesaving vaccine.