Guevarra: Elderly inmates part of priority COVID-19 vaccination list

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Guevarra: Elderly inmates part of priority COVID-19 vaccination list
This photo taken May 25 shows elderly inmates of the New Bilibid Prison who will undergo rapid test for COVID-19.
Bureau of Corrections / Facebook page released

MANILA, Philippines — Elderly prisoners are part of the vaccination priority list for the coronavirus, but other inmates sharing the cramped spaces with them may have to wait for the jabs as with the rest of the country, at least for now.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, a member of the government’s coronavirus panel, confirmed Wednesday that Persons Deprived of Liberty, as a specific group, is not included in the Inter-Agency Task Force general classification for priority vaccination.

“[W]hen we speak of senior citizens as a priority group, this will cut across a broad range of individuals, including those serving time or under detention, in their own internal order of preference,” he told reporters.

As it is, elderly prisoners are part of the senior citizens classification, which is second in line of the priority list, next to medical frontliners.

READ: LIST: Priority population groups for COVID-19 vaccination

List for sub-classification

But Guevarra said the list is subject to further sub-classification, and there is chance that the IATF, upon re-deliberation, will include PDLs as a whole group in the priorities for vaccination.

“In setting the order of preference within a general class, I suppose that the IATF will consider the degree of vulnerability as a major factor,” the IATF member said.

He added: “In any event, while waiting for their turn to get vaccinated like the rest of the population, these PDLs will just have to follow minimum health protocols to reduce the risk of viral transmission.”

But Kapatid, an advocacy group for political prisoners, earlier pointed out that Philippines has the “unenviable record of having the highest jail congestion rate in the world.”

The group has asked Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, IATF chairperson, to include all PDLs in the government’s mass vaccination program.

Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim told Duque: “Subhuman conditions make prison facilities a reservoir of infectious disease. Ignoring them in the national efforts to contain COVID-19 will result in failure since the health of prisons and the communities surrounding them are linked.”

Penal and detention facilities across the country are known to be overcrowded, where social distancing and proper hygiene—practices meant to deter spread of the novel coronavirus—are practically impossible for inmates.

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Despite earlier claims from the government that inmates are "safer" from the threat of the coronavirus inside prisons, both the Bureau of Corrections and Bureau of Jail Management and Penology recorded hundreds of COVID-19 cases since the outbreak in March 2020 — this, despite a lockdown enforced in the facilities.

The Supreme Court and the Department of Justice meanwhile crafted policies to help decongest the prisons that allowed the release of thousands of inmates.

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