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Elderly and at-risk inmates to receive COVID-19 vaccine on Friday

Click to play video 'Elderly and at-risk inmates to receive COVID-19 vaccine on Friday' Elderly and at-risk inmates to receive COVID-19 vaccine on Friday
WATCH: On Wednesday, CSC announced that as part of the first phase of the vaccine rollout plan, 600 medically vulnerable federal inmates will receive the COVID-19 vaccine. – Jan 6, 2021

Canadian inmates will be near the front of the line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Wednesday, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) announced that as part of the first phase of the vaccine rollout plan, 600 older and medically vulnerable federal inmates will receive the shot, as recommended by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).

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.

Read more: Federal inmates to start receiving coronavirus vaccinations this week, union says

Premier Doug Ford voiced his displeasure with the vaccine plan during a COVID-19 briefing at Pearson Airport.

“When I first heard it, I didn’t believe it,” Ford said. “Let’s not give the most dangerous criminals in our country the vaccine before we give it to our long-term care patients and most vulnerable.”

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Global News spoke to a wife of an inmate in the Kingston, Ont., area on Wednesday, and she said that her husband is skeptical about the vaccine and was asked if he would accept it—he declined.

Click to play video 'Major COVID-19 outbreak at Joyceville Institution' Major COVID-19 outbreak at Joyceville Institution
Major COVID-19 outbreak at Joyceville Institution – Dec 18, 2020

“I feel like they’re taking a lot of the vulnerable population and kind of using them as guinea pigs,” said Tara Baker,  wife of a Joyceville Institution inmate.

Baker says that her husband is worried that he will face future complications from the vaccine.

She says he applied for medical temporary absence in the summer, claiming he met the criteria due to his history of pulmonary embolism, scarring on his lungs from a previous illness and chronic asthma– but he remains behind bars.

“They are putting them in the same place and just kind of hoping for the best,” said Baker.

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Baker, along with prisoner advocates, has been calling for early release for at-risk inmates since the pandemic began as they say the confined spaces within the prison puts inmates in grave danger.

Read more: Inmates in Canadian prisons should get speedy access to coronavirus vaccine: advocates 

Criminology associate professor at the University of Ottawa, Justin Piché, says vaccinating elderly and at-risk prisoners needs to be done, not only for the inmate’s sake but also for the community.

“If they won’t let them go, if we won’t let them go as a society, we need to vaccinate them,” said Piché. “What happens behind bars in terms of COVID transmission has impacts and implications for all of us, which is why prisoners, as well as prison staff, should have priority access to the vaccine.”

Click to play video 'Canada’s inmate population decreasing amid COVID-19' Canada’s inmate population decreasing amid COVID-19
Canada’s inmate population decreasing amid COVID-19 – Aug 16, 2020

According to the union representing corrections officers, members will have to wait behind inmates before they are vaccinated.

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The wait has raised concerns from regional unions, as prison outbreaks don’t only affect inmates, but dozens of correctional officers and employees have tested positive as well.

“We need the vaccine for our members so we can get more people back in the workplace, but our members are very tired right now,” said Rob Finucan, Ontario regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.

Click to play video 'Inoculations begin for 600 elderly and vulnerable inmates' Inoculations begin for 600 elderly and vulnerable inmates
Inoculations begin for 600 elderly and vulnerable inmates – Jan 8, 2021

CSC issued a statement saying that it and the Public Health Agency of Canada are working closely with the provinces and territories to facilitate access to the COVID-19 vaccine during the first phase for staff such as health-care workers who work closely with infected inmates and other priority groups identified by NACI.

“The health and safety of our employees, inmates, and the public is a top priority for the Correctional Service of Canada. This is very welcome news, as we know vaccines are a critical way to limit the spread of COVID-19. We will continue working with our public health partners, unions and stakeholders to roll out measures that help protect everyone during this public health pandemic,” Anne Kelly, CSC Commissioner.

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Read more: More than 100 federal inmates, corrections officers test positive for COVID-19

The number of vaccines divided up between each federal prison is unclear.

On Tuesday, CSC reported that in Ontario, Joyceville Institution in Kingston has 67 active cases and a total of 151 cases. Warkworth Institution has one active case and a total of three.

A full list can be found on the Government of Canada website.