MILWAUKEE - Wisconsin's 20,000 prisoners could soon start to receive their COVID-19 vaccine shots.
"More than half of the Wisconsin prison system has contracted COVID," said Peggy West-Schroder of Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing (EXPO).
West-Schroder advocates for people affected by the prison system. She said the move would be a first step in providing incarcerated individuals protection from the coronavirus. It is something West-Schroder says has been lacking since the pandemic began.
"These are human beings. And they’re human beings that are being kept in quarters that make them highly susceptible to catch a disease that could kill them," West-Schroder said.
On Wednesday, Jan. 20, an advisory panel for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) voted to include the prison population in Phase 1b of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
"It’s the incarcerated’s 8th amendment right to receive the same level of care they would receive in the community," said Daryl Danne, Wisconsin Department of Corrections Pharmacy Director.
The committee is making the recommendation despite receiving 80 comments from members of the public against prioritizing prisoners. Among them, Kathy Weidner of Dodge County. Her 22-year-old grandson was killed in 2019 by an alleged impaired driver.
"Going 80 miles-an-hour slammed into them and took Gavin’s life in an instant," Weidner said.
Weidner said the thought of the suspect, whose case has not yet gone to trial, receiving the vaccine before she does adds to the heartache of losing her loved one.
"It’s outrageous. It just feels like the criminal has more rights than the victims do," Weidner said.
Meanwhile, state legislators are also weighing in. A bill introduced in the Senate last week aims to prevent DHS from prioritizing incarcerated individuals to receive the vaccine.