Southwest Virginia group pushes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccine for inmates

“There’s no social distancing. There’s no control over their health care.’

As frontline workers and health care professionals get their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, members of the National Lawyers Guild want to make sure another population vulnerable to COVID-19 doesn’t get overlooked.

Alan Stuart Graf, president of the guild’s Southwest Virginia chapter, said when it comes to who receives the COVID-19 vaccine, inmates should also be a priority.

“Some people will say, ‘Oh, who cares about prisoners? They screwed up. They hurt society. We shouldn’t really be caring about them.’ Well, it’s a reflection on us and what kind of people we are,” said Graf.

Graf wrote an open letter to Governor Ralph Northam and Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran over the concern.

“There’s no social distancing. There’s no control over their health care. There’s no way to really get a handle on it themselves. They are completely dependent on the state,” said Margaret Breslau, chair of the National Lawyers Guild Prisoner Rights Committee.

The group believes inmates should not get the vaccine before frontline workers, but they shouldn’t be forgotten.

“We’re not saying to move them to the top of the list or anything like that. What we’re saying is we have to have a plan. When I see the plan say 75 years or older, does that include geriatric inmates?” said Breslau.

Secretary Moran responded to the chapter’s letter with the following: “Thank you for your thoughtful correspondence. We agree that supporting our frontline workers and first responders is critical however we must also consider those who are particularly vulnerable in congregate housing. Despite DOC’s Herculean efforts this highly contagious virus is affecting our prisons and jails. I can assure you this is known at all levels of this administration as we determine how limited supplies of the vaccine are prioritized.”

The Virginia Department of Corrections reported 6,600 total cases as of Tuesday, with 1,500 active cases among inmates.

10 News reached out to Secretary Moran for further comment, but had not heard back when this article was published.

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