‘Explosive situation in prisons’: Calls for all detainees to be given vaccination priority
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‘Explosive situation in prisons’: Calls for all detainees to be given vaccination priority

Credit: Belga

All prisoners in Belgium should be given priority in the coronavirus vaccine rollout, not just the most vulnerable, as was decided during an Inter-ministerial Conference on Monday, prisoner association groups argue.

There should be a review of this vaccination schedule in prisons, according to I.Care, an association aiming to improve medical and psychosocial care of prisoners and the Belgian section of the International Prison Observatory (OIP) said in a press release on Monday.

“The situation in prisons is explosive and it cannot continue like this,” Marie Berquin, President of the Belgian section of the OIP, said.

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The Inter-ministerial Conference on Public Health, alongside Belgium’s Coronavirus Commission, decided that the most vulnerable prisoners (over 65s and people with comorbidities) and prison officers will receive priority in the vaccination campaign. The prisons’ internal competent services will oversee the vaccination rollout.

“Prisons are closed communities where several adults live together in a limited area. The risk of contamination and therefore disease is higher. Obviously, prison staff cannot always maintain sufficient physical distance from the inmates,” a press release following the conference read.

Last Friday, Federal Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne pleaded for the vaccination priority of prison personnel, following the death of a staff member in a Ghent prison earlier that same week.

Over the past months, several prisons in Belgium, such as those of Hasselt, Dendermonde, and Namur, have dealt with Covid-19 outbreaks, causing wings or even the entire prison to go into lockdown.

Other detainees will be vaccinated at the start of phase 2, at the same time as the general population, according to the press statement from the Conference.

The organisations representing detainees deplored this decision which makes “prison staff alone a priority target for vaccination but does not provide for any specific measures for detainees, whose vaccination schedule is identical to that of the general population.”

Lauren Walker
The Brussels Times