Inmates at federal prisons across Canada will begin receiving vaccinations against the novel coronavirus on Friday, the according to the national prison officers’ union.
The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO) says the pilot project will see prisons receiving 1,200 doses of the vaccine — enough to vaccinate 600 inmates with the required two doses.
The union did not say exactly which prisons will be receiving the initial round of vaccine doses.
It did say that sick and elderly inmates will be prioritized, following the federal government’s recommendations for who should be the first recipients of the vaccine.
The union added prison officers and employees will have to wait for before they are vaccinated, but would not say Tuesday how long that wait will be.
Global News did not immediately receive comment from the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) about the prison vaccine program.
As of Tuesday, there are 195 active cases of COVID-19 across Canada, according to the CSC. Three inmates have died since the pandemic took hold in March, while nearly 950 others have recovered from the virus.
There have also been several outbreaks in provincially run jails, while dozens of correctional officers and employees have been infected as well.
Advocates have said inmates should be given speedy access to vaccines, given how susceptible prisons and jails have been to outbreaks and how prevalent chronic disease is in that population.
Inmates 50 and older account for one-quarter of the federal prison population. Advocates note people age faster behind bars and are in poorer health than the general public.
Yet Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole slammed the news about the prison inmate vaccine program Tuesday.
“Not one criminal should be vaccinated ahead of any vulnerable Canadian or front-line health worker,” he tweeted.
Canada’s vaccine rollout has come under fire in recent days, as the country has fallen behind countries like Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom in distribution.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday said he is frustrated to hear that a large number of the vaccine doses already delivered to provinces and territories remain sitting in freezers instead of being administered to the vulnerable population.
Since the first vaccine was administered on Dec. 14, Canada has administered roughly 150,000 doses; more than 420,000 have been delivered to the provinces.
Trudeau has maintained that by September the country will have enough doses to vaccinate every Canadian who wants a shot.
Just over a million Canadians would need to be vaccinated every week to reach the goal of vaccinating the entire population by September.
–With files from Katie Dangerfield and the Canadian Press