New York to vaccinate all prisoners following judge’s ruling

N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's acting counsel says the state's goal has been to implement a vaccination plan 'that is fair and equitable.'

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A New York judge has ruled that all people incarcerated in New York State prisons and jails must be vaccinated after being “arbitrarily excluded” from the state’s vaccine rollout. 

Justice Alison Y. Tuitt of State Supreme Court in the Bronx ruled on Monday that the exclusion of prisoners from the rollout was “unfair and unjust” and an “abuse of discretion,” according to The New York Times

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks at Grace Baptist Church, a new pop-up vaccination site, last week in Mt. Vernon, New York. (Photo by Seth Wenig-Pool/Getty Images)

More than 1,100 prisoners in the state have tested positive for the virus in just the last month, and five people have died. The Times notes that of the 5,500 people currently being held in New York City jails, more than three-quarters of them have not been convicted of a crime. 

“They haven’t done anything to keep us safe,” said Prakash Churaman, 21, told The Times after being released on bail in January. “Imagine how much bacteria, how much germs there is. It’s basically like we weren’t even human.”

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A professor of epidemiology called the situation “a ticking time bomb” as people who are released return to their communities, potentially spreading the virus. 

In her ruling, Tuitt wrote that New York officials “irrationally distinguished between incarcerated people and people living in every other type of adult congregate facility, at great risk to incarcerated people’s lives during this pandemic.”

“There is no acceptable excuse,” Tuitt added, “for this deliberate exclusion.”

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In a statement, Beth Garvey, acting counsel to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, maintained the state’s “goal all along has been to implement a vaccination program that is fair and equitable, and these changes will help ensure that continues to happen.” 

Former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton, who resides in New York, tweeted in January: “We’ve had ~2,000 new #covid19 cases in New York State prisons in the last 6 weeks alone. Please @NYGovCuomo allow and prioritize #covid19 vaccinations of incarcerated people in our state.” 

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Republicans in New York and several other states had pushed back against inoculating their prison populations because the idea was unpopular with citizens still awaiting their own opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Further, even as the state has ruled that prisoners must be vaccinated, advocacy groups are concerned about their willingness to be inoculated, given the governmental history of medical experimentation on the incarcerated and people of color. 

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