FRANKLIN, Tenn. (WKRN) — While thousands of Tennesseeans have or will soon get the COVID-19 vaccine, there is no timeline in place for inmates to receive the vaccine.
The Pandemic Vaccine Planning Stakeholder group, an advisory board that decides the order in which Tennessee residents get vaccinated, have put inmates in the last phase of Tennessee’s vaccination rollout plan. The board decided prioritizing inmates above other residents would result in a”public relations nightmare”.
“We don’t make decisions based on public relations when it comes to morality and ethics,” said Kevin Riggs, Senior Pastor of Franklin Community Church. “You don’t make decisions based on that.”
Already 1-in-3 inmates have tested positive for the virus.
Riggs has been doing prison ministry since his start as a minister as a teen. He knows firsthand how the lack of protection from coronavirus is impacting inmates.
“You’ve got people who are in jail and they haven’t even been convicted of anything,” Riggs explained. “They couldn’t afford bail, so they are sitting in jail innocent until proven guilty and now they have a high chance of catching COVID.”
Rehabilitation programs and family/friend visits have been shut down since the onset of the pandemic. Riggs says the isolation is doing more harm than good.
“It’s somewhere between 90-95 percent of people who are incarcerated today, who will be released back into neighborhoods and communities at some point,” said Riggs. “I think by not having programs, and the family visits — that hurts the overall morale. That’s going to have an effect on the guards. That’s going to have an effect on the prison employees. It just has effect across the board.”
Riggs is now advocating for inmates to be vaccinated under the same roll out plan as the general public.
“To me, it doesn’t matter what a person has done. They’re still created in the image of God and they need to be treated like human beings,” said Riggs.
The Tennessee Health Commissioner, Dr. Lisa Piercey is set to discuss this matter in her upcoming press conference Tuesday.
From availability to current phases, find vaccine information for every Tennessee county using News 2’s Vaccine Tracker map.