A Philosopher's Blog

H1N1 Shots & Prisoners

Posted in Ethics, Medicine/Health by Michael LaBossiere on October 30, 2009
Jail cell in the Brecksville Police Department...

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As most folks know, people are supposed to get the H1N1 shots. As folks also probably know, the vaccine is in very short supply (despite promises to the contrary). One thing that has stirred up controversy is that some folks in prison will be getting their shots before some other people who are in need.

On one hand, the furor over this does seem to be justified. After all, the people who are in prison would tend to be bad people who have harmed society. As such, to use society’s limited resources to protect them from H1N1 at the expense of protecting people who have not harmed society seems to be morally incorrect.

On the other hand, the distribution of vaccines is based on risk-those more at risk get moved up towards the front of the line. Since prisoners are in highly confined spaces and exposed to large numbers of people, they can be at much higher risk of H1N1 than the general population. While it might be tempting to say that they deserve to suffer because of their crimes, their punishment is to be in prison and not to become infected with a disease. As such, a case can be made as to why the prisoners would get the shots ahead of certain non-prisoners.

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12 Responses

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  1. biomass2 said, on October 30, 2009 at 9:56 am

    In this instance, prison overcrowding provides strong means and motive to “let the bastards die”.

    But the prisons and prisoners are directly under federal,state, county control. Assuming that vaccination was withheld, and it could be proved that failure to vaccinate was the cause of death, where would liability rest? After all, those government entities, and society in general, would seem to have the motive, and the unique, and convenient reality of HINI has given them the means. And even the recently dead scum of the earth*, some of them at least, have caring families who would be more than willing to take the issue to court.

    To take it to another level—at what point does the question of “cruel and *truly unusual* punishment” enter the picture? I’m sure the Supreme court has fielded stranger issues than this.

    The government could argue that there was no intent on their part, really. And besides, the deaths of large numbers of prisoners now will create less-crowded conditions for future criminal generations and therefore improve inmate safety should another such outbreak occur later in the century. :)

    *making no distinction here between murderers, rapists and repeat DUI offenders

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 30, 2009 at 11:34 am

      Of course, from a practical standpoint, since the state is responsible for the care of the prisoners, a vaccination would be cheaper than treatment. So, folks who favor saving money would have a good reason to support the vaccination of prisoners. After all, their health care is typically on our dime.

      • kernunos said, on November 2, 2009 at 11:29 am

        What happens if a prisoner has a bad reaction and becomes a vegetable?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 2, 2009 at 12:50 pm

          Lawsuit, if a big money lawyer smells the green.

          • kernunos said, on November 2, 2009 at 8:33 pm

            Of course, and if you were diligent and looked into the new military funding bill you would see lots of money going to ‘Hate Crimes’ and thus lawyers. When does the damnable lawsuits end? Just seems like more crazy lawsuits. You were just setup to give the response that I wanted to hear Mike. ;)

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 3, 2009 at 1:40 pm

              The Democrats do get significant campaign funding from lawyers and this is a factor of concern. No doubt most legislation bears the mark of the relevant lobbyists. After all, we have some of the best politicians that money can buy. Fortunately, we are not completely corrupted-but give it time.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on October 30, 2009 at 10:55 am

    I think it makes perfect sense to vaccinate prison populations as a matter of public health.

    The vaccine should go where it will do the most good to protect public health. In my mind this is a technical question, not a moral one.

  3. magus71 said, on October 30, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Do they get normal flu shots?

    H1N1 is no more deadly or difficult than the regular flu, by the way.

    • biomass2 said, on October 30, 2009 at 5:37 pm

      An article in the latest Scientific American notes that some scientists believe older Americans are generally less severely affected by H1N1 because older people were exposed to the virus during the 1918 epidemic and/or in other H1N1 outbreaks between then and 1957.(They mention that H1N1 was out there “before 1957″, then “stopped circulating for the next two decades. You learn something new everyday. . .) Anyway, by then “exposure to post-1918 H1N1 human flu viruses had primed the oldest subjects’ immune systems to recognize the novel H1N1″.

      People who are 40 and above now were most likely vaccinated in 1976, the last time H1N1 attacked; but among those people, those who were young at the time they received the ’76 vaccines seem to be less immune than those who were older and vaccinated in 1976 (esp. those who lived in the 1918-1957 time period).

      It’s just a theory, but it makes sense. . .

  4. kernunos said, on November 2, 2009 at 11:31 am

    I am not trying to get into some big discussion on the vaccinate or not to vaccinate but I have not even received a flu shot since 1994 and I am not even sure if I have had the flu since that time. Maybe washing my hands every now and then helps. Thanks mom!

  5. magus71 said, on November 3, 2009 at 10:55 am

    To my memory, I never got the flu shot in 8 years as a cop. And man did I work with some dirty people.

    I’m still kickin’


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