Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley said she would work to make it a priority for prisoners to get the coronavirus vaccine, as Massachusetts reportedly announced that inmates would be among the first to be inoculated after health-care workers and the elderly.
The Massachusetts lawmaker said she was vaccinated on Saturday to encourage reluctant black Americans who are distrustful of the health-care system to be vaccinated for the benefits of overall public health.
“They have violated the trust, and that’s very real. And so I wanted to set an example. … I consulted with my husband and my health care provider which is what I encourage others to do when making their own very personal decision,” she said during an interview on CNN’s “Inside Politics.”
“At the end of the day, I think this is what is in the best interest of our public health. … I trust the vaccine and that’s why I had it administered. And I want to say thank you to all the scientists and all the researchers,” Pressley, who has the auto-immune disease alopecia, continued.
“And I’m going to continue to fight for our most vulnerable communities who have been disproportionally impacted by the virus, for our health care workers, for our essential workers, for incarcerated men and women to be prioritized in the distribution of the vaccine,” she said in the Sunday interview.
Massachusetts, according to the New York Times, said its decision to prioritize inmates was made to provide equal access during the pandemic, as the coronavirus has taken a larger toll on people of color, who make up the majority of people incarcerated.
“We used equity as a core principle in our recommendations,” Dr. Simone Wildes, a member of the state’s coronavirus task force, told the newspaper. “We have had a lot of cases of COVID in the prisons, and we wanted to make sure those at highest risk were getting the vaccine first.”
According to the Marshall Project, which has been tracking prisoner deaths in federal and state facilities, more than 276,235 people in prison have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Dec. 15.
At least 1,738 prisoners have died from the disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that the first shots go to essential workers in the health-care industry and residents of long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living.
Two vaccines, one from Pfizer-BioNtech and the other from Moderna, have recently been approved for use and have been shipped to sites around the country to begin the massive effort needed to vaccinate a large portion of the population.
In the CNN interview, host Abby Phillip noted that only 20 percent of black Americans want to get the vaccine compared to 40 percent of whites.
Pressley, in a statement issued by her office after she was vaccinated, called out the inequalities in the health-care system and said the “research and medical community have deeply violated the trust of Black and brown people in American throughout our nation’s history.”
She said because of the pandemic crisis medical institutions and elected officials have to “earn the trust of communities of color.”
“I will continue to fight in Washington and in Massachusetts to ensure that our frontline healthcare workers, those behind the wall, our essential workers, and the marginalized communities who have been hit hardest by this pandemic are able to access the vaccine rapidly and free of cost,” Pressley said in the statement.
A syringe and vial of a COVID-19 vaccine at a health clinic in Indiana.John Luke/The Times via AP
Pressley is part of the “Squad,” a group of progressive lawmakers that includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.
There has been some squabbling among members of the group over who should be getting the vaccine first.
Omar, of Minnesota, said it was “shameful” that younger lawmakers like Ocasio-Cortez are getting the shot before seniors and essential health workers.
She said she’d pass on getting the vaccine now so that people who need it the most will have access to it.