BOSTON (AP) – Massachusetts inmates will be some of the first to get the coronavirus vaccines after health care workers, emergency medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities get vaccinated.

Tens of thousands of inmates will be offered the shots ahead of home health aides, seniors and medically vulnerable residents, joining people who live in homeless shelters and other congregate settings who will be vaccinated by the end of February, The New York Times reported.

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“We used equity as a core principle in our recommendations,” said Dr. Simone Wildes, an infectious disease specialist and a member of the state’s Covid-19 vaccine advisory group. “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.”

Prisons have had some of the country’s biggest coronavirus outbreaks. More than one in 10 inmates around the country is over age 55 and therefore more vulnerable to the virus, said Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, co-founder of the COVID Prison Project. Inmates also have higher rates of chronic medical conditions that increase the risk of severe illness if they become infected, the New York Times reported.

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In Massachusetts, Black and Hispanic people make up a little over half of the prison and jail populations, according to the advocacy group Prison Policy Initiative.

“Those at greatest need — we have to take care of them,” said Dr. Wildes. “You can’t socially distance in prison.”

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