“Our 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,” she said.
But the lawsuit brought against the state raises questions about equitable distribution of the vaccine, at least within prisons. Other people in congregate settings were eligible for the vaccine, but incarcerated individuals were excluded.
There have been COVID-19 outbreaks in several state prisons. According to DOCCS, more than 11,500 incarcerated individuals, parolees and employees have contracted the virus. There have been 6,273 positive cases among the incarcerated population.
Alexander Horwitz, executive director of New Yorkers United for Justice, blasted DOCCS for its response to the pandemic in prisons.
“Nearly half of all states have included incarcerated people in their COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans and have taken various measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in their correctional facilities,” Horwitz said. “Meanwhile, (DOCCS) has failed to keep New Yorkers safe throughout this pandemic for over a year. DOCCS has continually ducked responsibility and obfuscated public information — all to avoid exposing their complete unwillingness to test and vaccinate incarcerated New Yorkers.”
Other advocates are hoping for additional state actions. Robin DelPiore, a leader with the Center for Community Alternatives and the mother of an incarcerated individual, is pleased that the vaccine will be available to inmates. But she added it’s “appalling and unconscionable” that it took legal action to expand eligibility to incarcerated individuals.