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Lawsuit demanding immediate access to covid-19 vaccines for all inmates

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FILE Prison

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YAKIMA -- Three Washington state inmates have brought forward a lawsuit demanding access, not just eligibility for the covid-19 vaccine for all incarcerated individuals.

According to attorneys at Columbia Legal Services, plaintiffs Candis Rush, Justin Autrey, Gregory Steen and all others living behind bars 8.5 times higher rate of infection than free individuals to contract the virus.

"Our response to the pandemic has to be based on science, it has to be based on who is the most vulnerable," Tony Gonzalez of Columbia Legal Services said.

With nearly 15,000 inmates across the state becoming eligible to receive the vaccine Wednesday, Gonzalez believes if inmates aren't given priority of distribution they will be left behind.

"You have a scarce resource being made even scarcer," Gonzalez said of the state advancing in eligibility tiers.

I asked Gonzalez why inmates should be prioritized. He said "We should really be avoiding questions about who is deserving and whose life is worthy because ultimately the way we're going to end this pandemic is by staying ahead of it."

Since inmates can't make an appointment at a local pharmacy, that means state and local agencies will need to coordinate how they will get distribution inside the prisons.

While the suit is targeted at prisons across Washington, the Yakima Health District says they already have a plan in place for the local jail.

"We are coordinating with all our partners across the county to try to get all that [jail distribution] finalized," Stephanie Badillo-Sanchez of YHD said. She went on to say they will vaccinate all those eligible individuals when they do become eligible.

According to data from the Department of Corrections, just over 6,000 inmates plus 1,100 staff have recovered from covid-19 statewide.

Plaintiffs also want to get more education about covid-19 and its effects in addition to informing prisoners on how the vaccine will affect them. Advocates said because some DOC staff didn't want the vaccine it has caused confusion and even some of the incarcerated to doubt the value of getting vaccinated.

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