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Some prison inmates are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine before reaching Phase 1B raising concerns

As the state is currently in Phase 1A of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution, some inmates are receiving vaccines before the state enters Phase 1B- concerning many.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Inmates in prisons across the commonwealth are now able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Phase 1B.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has worked with the department of health to implement this agenda.

Although inmates will be able to get the vaccine in Phase 1B, some are already receiving them early at SCI Laurel Highlands, SCI Waymart and SCI Muncy due to being the most medically vulnerable, according to the state Department of Corrections. 

The Department of Health has also put out a statement detailing the plans for distribution for the COVID-19 vaccine for inmates and prison staff:

“Correctional facilities, whether run locally or by the state, are in Phase 1B of the Interim Vaccination Plan. The state is working on plans to ensure that vaccine is available to these congregate settings as we look toward Phase 1B. There are a few correctional facilities currently receiving vaccine to support those who are medically fragile as these locations are structured similar to a long-term care facility.”

John Eckenrode, the President of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, has concerns with the matter as he says this is only continuing the spread of the virus.

"The staff members that are not positive that are going to work every day right now have that chance to contract the COVID-19 and then we're bringing it home to the people that we care about," said Eckenrode.

Rep. Doyle Heffley agreed with Eckenrode on questioning the importance of inmates receiving the vaccine compared to the general public.

"You know folks that are inmates in prison, they're not going to be apart of the economy, they're not going out to shop or going out to ball games."

Heffley also said he did not have a problem with inmates receiving the vaccine, but instead, officials should put priority elsewhere.

"I don't think we should be putting them ahead of someone whose 90 years old in a long-term care facility that hasn't committed a crime. There not being able to see their family because they haven't gotten the vaccine."

These concerns were also shown in our viewing area of Harrisburg as locals were a bit perplexed with the initiative. 

"Yeah, that's a little bit weird. Why would they give them to the prison population but not to the correctional officers-I don't know?" said Justin Young.

Melvin Thomas also shared the same confusion.

"Somebody's dropping the ball if the inmates can get it then the officers should get it first," said Thomas, "that's like saying we're going to give it to the rats, but we're not going to give it to the cats, it doesn't make sense."

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