Under the Delhi government’s special vaccination campaign for prisoners, a majority of inmates lodged inside the Capital’s jails, including those with life sentences, have been vaccinated because everyone has the right to life under the Constitution, officials said Tuesday.

In Delhi’s largest jail–Tihar–almost 90% of the inmates have received the first Covid vaccine dose, while 85% of the inmates in Rohini Jail have received the first dose. In Mandoli Jail, almost 84% of the inmates have received the first dose, according to jail authorities.

Delhi’s three prison complexes have been badly hit during the current wave of the pandemic (dominated by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus) as well as in the past. The jails can accommodate 10,024 inmates, but currently house around 18,000 inmates, thus making social distancing challenging.

Vaccination against Covid-19 is crucial for protection from the virus, according to experts and real-world evidence from many countries. There has been negligible resistance towards vaccination from inmates, but a group of 150 Nigerian inmates in Rohini Jail are refusing to take the jab and authorities said they are still trying to convince them.

Women inmates, including those pregnant and lactating, have also been administered the vaccine–there has been no side effect so far, authorities said.

According to authorities, prisoners released before being administered the second dose of the vaccine are given certificates of the first dose to facilitate them in receiving the second dose.

Since the total number of inmates constantly changes with daily arrivals and departures, authorities said it is challenging to achieve 100% first-dose vaccination. District authorities said they are coordinating with the jail authorities to ensure 100% first- and second-dose coverage of all inmates at the earliest.

“The jails are very close to achieving 100% first-dose coverage. Since new inmates arrive every day and the total number of inmates constantly changes, 100% vaccination coverage is challenging. Inmates jabbed in the jails are counted as vaccinated, while those vaccinated before arriving in jail are not immediately counted as vaccinated– thus the vaccination coverage as compared to the total inmate population keeps changing on a day-to-day basis. As compared to a month ago, a majority of the inmates who arrive in the jails now are already partially or fully vaccinated. Efforts are being made to immediately update the vaccination coverage status of prisoners upon arrival,” a Delhi government official, who did not want to be named, said.

A North district administration official said that the district administration is coordinating with the Rohini Jail authorities to complete 100% first-dose vaccination as soon as possible. “A vaccination camp is being organised in the jail premises on Wednesday where we will try to vaccinate as many remaining people as possible,” the official said.

Since the prisoners do not have access to mobile phones, and some do not have identity proof either, jail authorities create special session sites on Co-WIN by using the identities and mobile phone numbers of medical officers to vaccinate such inmates.

An official from the West district, where Tihar Jail is located, said since inmates are not allowed mobile phones, “it was decided to vaccinate the prisoners by using the “facilitator option” in Co-WIN. Vaccination for prisoners started on March 23, 2021, and since then we have administered over 16,000 doses– around 11,200 first doses and 4,850 second doses. The prisoners also include women, some of whom are pregnant or lactating. About 428 women prisoners have been vaccinated, of whom two were pregnant and four were lactating mothers,” the official said.

In Tihar Jail, booster doses are also being administered to those eligible– so far 625 doses have been administered, authorities said.

An official said that the Rohini Jail authorities, with the assistance of the district magistrate (North) are taking all steps to ensure all inmates are vaccinated as soon as they enter the jail. “Since April 2021, nearly 84% of the inmates have been vaccinated with single doses. Vaccination camps are organised to vaccinate the inmates regularly,” the official said.

All district magistrates have asked jail authorities to administer the second dose of the vaccine to eligible inmates at the earliest so that they are better protected against Covid-19.

Dr Jugal Kishore, head of the department of community medicine at Safdarjung Hospital, said vaccinating jail inmates is important because they are living in overcrowded and poor hygienic conditions. “Such inmates should be vaccinated on priority. However, they should be encouraged to adopt Covid-appropriate behaviour, and should be asked to quit tobacco, and exercise and meditate regularly,” said Dr Kishore.

Dr Lalit Kant, former head of the epidemiology and communicable diseases department in Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said it was imperative to be careful of an outbreak of cases in jails.

“Jails and prisons have been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in many countries. In the US, more than 40 of the 50 largest clustered outbreaks in the country have occurred in jails and prisons. Compared with the general population, the number of Covid-19 cases in jails is almost 5-6 times higher. Outbreaks in jails spread rapidly and uncontrollably. Once the virus enters these facilities, many of which are already overcrowded, it is almost impossible to maintain the recommended 6-feet safe distance. Ventilation is inadequate. Quality face masks may not be easily available. Further, there may not be any facility for quarantining or isolating exposed individuals. In such conditions, providing Covid-19 vaccine would be beneficial to the inmates, and help prevent severe illness and death among the vaccines,” Dr Kant said.

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