Hours after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker were served with a lawsuit over their failure to include incarcerated individuals in the early stages of the coronavirus vaccination rollout, state officials said they would begin inoculating more than 1,000 inmates who are 65 and over.
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision late Thursday announced the updated response a few hours after initially saying the agency was working with the state health department on a plan for vaccinating prisoners.
DOCCS spokesman Thomas Mailey said in a statement:
“There are 1,075 people who are in the system who are 65 and older, and DOCCS is in the process of preparing to vaccinate that population consistent with statewide guidance for that age group.”
Downstate attorneys and other advocacy groups on Thursday filed a petition in state Supreme Court seeking to compel the state to include incarcerated individuals in New York’s second — or 1b — phase of vaccination.
They argued that the state’s policy runs counter to federal guidance advising vaccination priority for people in congregate settings.
The petition, filed in Bronx County by several groups on behalf of inmates in state prisons, calls for the immediate inclusion of inmates in the 1b vaccination phase.
The petition labels their exclusion “arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion.”
It also argues the exclusion of inmates in the vaccination phrase is a civil rights violation of the equal protection clause.
Excluding incarcerated people from prioritization is a “fundamental contradiction” of the state’s goal to ensure “equitable access to the vaccine regardless of factors such as wealth or social status,” the lawsuit argues:
“And it contradicts respondents’ public recognition that vaccine access for Black and brown communities must be ensured, as those communities have suffered disproportionate rates of infection and death from the virus … “
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