EDITORIAL – Giving vaccine to inmates isn’t as clear an issue as it seems

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

MORE CANADIANS THAN EVER want in on COVID-19 immunization. A new poll says the percentage is up to 60 per cent, and most people worry about having to wait too long.

It’s inevitable there will be disagreement over who should get it first, and who should get it second, and so on. There’s general agreement, though, that frontline healthcare workers and those in long-term care homes should be at the front of the line.

After that, it’s less clear. Those incarcerated in prisons, for example. Some 600 federal inmates are being vaccinated.

The federal government has set aside some of the precious vaccine for them, a fact that bothers politicians like Ontario Premier Doug Ford and federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole.

On the face of it, helping criminals when the vaccine could go to our elderly instead is, indeed, outrageous. And what of prison staff? Shouldn’t every one of them be vaccinated before the prisoners?

But, agree with it or not, there is a rationale for what the government is doing. Prisons have been a hotbed of COVID-19 outbreaks. Some of them released a number of prisoners for awhile last year because they were, quote, “sitting ducks” for the virus.

Now consider this. The vaccine going into the prisons is to be used for elderly and frail inmates, so the guideline is actually similar to the general population.

However, this sets up a true moral conundrum. What’s our obligation to the health of our prison population? Is an elderly prisoner less deserving of life-saving healthcare than a senior in the general population? Some would say yes, but others would argue that’s inhumane.

There are any number of opinions about who should be first and who should be last. One view is that Olympic athletes should get preference.

Putting prisoners into the lineup is tough to swallow but it’s not as simple an issue as it might, at first, seem.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at

About Mel Rothenburger (8896 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

1 Comment on EDITORIAL – Giving vaccine to inmates isn’t as clear an issue as it seems

  1. I think the people who work in the prisons should get the vaccine, and perhaps elderly prisoners when elders in the general population are eligible. But healthy young prisoners should have to take their chance the same as anyone who has to work for a living and is out in the public. There is one way to avoid getting Covid in prison that is guaranteed, don’t commit crimes that put you in there and if you are in there, do not expect to jump the que.

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