The panellists field questions from the representatives of the prison population. (Image courtesy Prison Service)

Inmates in the prison system had an opportunity to have their concerns about COVID-19 and the vaccination programme this week, when two Government ministers visited the Maximum Security Prison and made a guest appearance on RISE Maximum Radio, a station which broadcasts exclusively to the prison population.

Government recently announced that the Johnson & Johnson one-shot COVID-19 vaccine will be administered to the prison population.

Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds MP, and Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh, along with Principal Medical Officer of Health Dr. Maryam Abdool-Richards, addressed questions, queries and concerns of inmates about COVID-19 vaccination, on Monday 23 August 2021. Also present during the broadcast were Shamshudeen Mohammed and Carlos Corraspe, Deputy Commissioners of Prisons, and David Prince, Assistant Commissioner of Prisons.

During the hour-long session, which was broadcast to all the nation’s prisons, questions were posed to the panel by three inmates who sought information on behalf of the prison population.

According to a news release from the Prison Service, the concerns ranged from the effectiveness of the vaccine, the adverse effects, availability of different types, reliable sources of information, what being vaccinated means to the prisoners and the prison itself, and mandatory vaccination, to the mental health issues of prisoners brought on by the restrictions.

The guests, together with the assistance of Dr Hazel Othello, Director of Mental Health and Nurse Keisha Gomez, Infections Control Nurse who is assigned to the Trinidad and Tobago Prison Service, responded to all questions put forward, and sought to dispel rumours surrounding the vaccine.  They also stressed the benefits of being vaccinated, as the very nature of prisons allows for easy spread of the virus.

Minister Deyalsingh, who had stated earlier that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine would be made available to the prisoners as an option, expressed his delight at the impressive and intelligent assortment of questions meted out.

Minister Hinds also complimented the prisoners, stating he hoped that by having heard from the experts directly, that they would be responsible and spread the message to others to get vaccinated.