High Risk Convicts Among Top Priority H1N1 Vaccine Recipients

By Megan Moore
NewsChannel 10

Amarillo, Texas - Some inmates in local prisons will be vaccinated for the H1N1 flu before some of you, courtesy of your tax dollars.

The Clements Unit is one of dozens of Texas facilities getting the vaccine because it has an inpatient medical facility.  The inmate population works just like the general population, in that high risk people will be the first to get the vaccine.

But the Texas Department of Criminal Justice wants to clear up one thing.  Spokeswoman Michelle Lyons says, "there is a notion or misconception that the inmates are getting the shot before the general public and that's not true."

What is true is inmates who are high risk, like people with medical conditions or weak immune systems, are in the same category as high risk people in the general population, which means they could be vaccinated before some of the general public.

Most people we spoke with were not happy to hear inmates, although high risk for developing the flu, are a priority above healthy, law abiding citizens.

Ashley Lundergreen says, "I believe it could be more spread in the public than in an institution and so I think people in the public should get it first."

Shawn Shipman agrees, saying, "I feel kind of outraged that they're put in the same category as a child who has cancer or a health care worker that is trying their best to handle people with illness."

But some others, like Johnathan Heredia, disagree, saying, "they're human beings. just because they're incarcerated they still need their flu shot."

Lyons also says the obligation of the TDCJ is to take care of the inmates, even healthwise.  She added Texas prisons will get their vaccines at the same time Texas communities get them, no earlier.

45,000 doses of the vaccine have been ordered for Texas inmates and are expected to arrive next week.  Another 40,000 are on their way for prison staff.

Lyons says the federal government is covering the cost of the vaccine to inmates, meaning taxpayers will foot the final bill.