Inmates, Homeless Will Be Among First to Receive Vaccine in D.C., Mayor Says

Washington, D.C., mayor Muriel Bowser (D.) / Getty Images
December 10, 2020

District of Columbia mayor Muriel Bowser (D.) announced Thursday that prison inmates and the city's homeless population will be in the first wave of city residents to get access to a coronavirus vaccine.

Slotted in behind only the city's health care workers in "Phase 1b" of the vaccine-distribution plan are "residents experiencing homelessness," residents living in one of D.C.'s transitional housing facilities, and "department of corrections residents and staff," according to the city's latest situational report.

Among those included in the same phase as the inmates and homeless are those living in nursing homes, law enforcement, school employees, grocery-store employees, and all individuals over the age of 65 or with high-risk health conditions.

Image from 12/10/2020 of coronavirus situational report from Washington, D.C.

The city says the phases were determined with an eye on creating an "equitable distribution."

"Our community has worked hard and sacrificed, since March, to save lives and protect our most vulnerable residents," the city said in the Thursday update. "Now, we are ready to lead an equitable distribution of a safe and effective vaccine."

A potential vaccine will not be made to the general public until everyone in phase 1a and 1b has had the opportunity to receive it. It remains unclear how many vaccines the city will receive and when it will receive them.

The push for inmates to receive first dibs on a vaccine has come largely from anti-prison activists—Ashish Prashar, who believes prisons should be abolished altogether, was published in the "hot take" section of NBC News arguing that society has a "moral" responsibility to prioritize the incarcerated.

"Incarcerated people are members of our society, too—ones often at high risk during crises because their health and well-being are rarely prioritized," Prashar wrote.

Decisions on access have varied across the country. In Massachusetts, Republican governor Charlie Baker decided to put inmates in the first phase along with the state's health care workers. In Colorado, however, Democratic governor Jared Polis said there's "no way" he'd take that step.

"There's no way it's going to go to prisoners before it goes to people who haven't committed any crime," Polis said. "That's obvious."

Bowser has come under fire for selectively violating her own coronavirus restrictions when it was politically advantageous to do so. She declared it "essential travel" for her and staff to attend a victory event for President-elect Joe Biden in Delaware and refused to quarantine when she returned despite requirements that city residents do so after crossing state lines. She also encouraged Black Lives Matter protesters to gather in the city during the height of the coronavirus's spread.