CHR calls on government to include inmates on priority vaccination list
This photo taken May 25, 2020 shows elderly inmates of the New Bilibid Prison who will undergo rapid test for COVID-19.
Bureau of Corrections/Facebook page released

CHR calls on government to include inmates on priority vaccination list

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - April 14, 2021 - 3:44pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights urged the government to include inmates in its priority vaccination list as it stressed the multitude of vulnerabilities detainees face while detained in our overcrowded jails and prisons nationwide.

CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia on Wednesday pointed out that given the limited supply of COVID-19 shots in the country, “far access to vaccines, including who should be first in line, requires the government to define priorities based on the level of vulnerability to the virus.”

“In developing national vaccination plans, it should not discriminate against those held in detention. Those who are high-risk inmates for COVID-19 should be prioritized for inoculation with the same treatment with comparative groups in the general population,” she added.

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

The government has been updating its priority vaccination list since it was first released on February 5. The National Task Force against COVID-19 has since allowed mayors and governors in high-risk areas to receive their vaccine at A1 category — the same level as medical frontliners.

The task force has also accommodated requests from state prosecutors and the Judiciary to include them in the A4 category for vaccination, with frontline workers in essential sectors.

But prisoners and detainees are still waiting whether they will be given higher priority on the list. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the task force will meet this week and they will argue “on the basis of greater COVID risk due to overcrowding.”

Critical situation in prisons

De Guia noted that prison conditions in the country “make [Persons Deprived of Liberty] particularly vulnerable in facing this pandemic with the spread of the virus caused by overcrowding; unsatisfactory healthcare services in prisons; and higher rates of pre-existing medical conditions among prison populations, especially the elderly inmates.”

She added that while there were efforts to decongest our jails following policies crafted by the DOJ and the Supreme Court, “the situation remains critical in these institutions as they still emerge as COVID-19 hotspots.”

A US State Department report also noted that the early lockdowns in prison, coupled with harsh conditions inside, were not enough to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus inside jails.

The CHR spokesperson stressed: “We urge the government to lend clarity on the country’s vaccination plan, policies, and treatment strategies as the impact of the pandemic is graver for vulnerable populations, including those incarcerated. No one should be left behind.”

De Guia then called on the government to provide updated data on COVID-19 infections and fatalities in prisons so the situation inside these cramped spaces can be assessed. She added that the access given to the CHR, as the lead agency in the Interim National Preventive Mechanism, would inform policy recommendations to address gaps and alleviate the condition of PDLs.

The Bureau of Corrections told Philstar.com that it is checking its data on COVID-19 inside its facilities and will release an update soon.

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