In under-vaccinated Bosnia, the prison population stands out | Ap


SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina (AP) – Bosnia’s coronavirus vaccination rate is one of the lowest in Europe, but a population in the Balkan country has thwarted the national trend: its inmates.

More than 80% of the 2,000 men and women serving sentences in Bosnia’s 13 prisons have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. This compares to just over 27% nationwide, a rate that results from a lack of takers, not an absence of shots.

Bosnia and most of the rest of the Balkans struggled early in the year to get vaccines, but had a steady supply of vaccines in late spring. While public demand for vaccines has rapidly slowed, interest has remained high in prisons, where authorities say vaccination remains voluntary.

The country’s largest penal institution, the maximum security prison in the city of Zenica, is one example. Over 90% of the 600 inmates at the prison and over 60% of staff received two injections after an initial campaign to encourage vaccination.

“We’re almost done,” said manager Redzo Kahric.

While the overall vaccination rate among all prison workers in Bosnia has so far been lower than that of inmates, it is still more than twice the rate in the general population.

Kahric said getting the vaccine is voluntary for inmates in Zenica and other Bosnian prisons. He believes that so many inmates have been shot for convenience; unlike the general public, inmates cannot bend or ignore anti-infective rules and must remain in quarantine if they come into contact with an infected person.

Prisoners who are entitled to weekend leave are also tested before and after their trips abroad. The spread of the virus appears to have been generally better controlled inside than outside Bosnian prisons. Since the start of the pandemic, no major outbreaks in prison have been reported.

“Many of my family have been infected, including my mother, so I think masking and getting the vaccine is the way to go,” said Fahro Kahriman, an inmate at Zanica.

At the start of the pandemic, when most countries around the world faced a shortage of personal protective equipment, inmates at Zenica were put to work sewing face masks as part of the prison labor program. .

The prison has produced more than 10,000 masks, mostly for internal use, but also for the Justice Department to distribute to other penal institutions, Kahric said. The program continued with the pandemic.

In the past, Zenica prison was known for its poor human rights record, but substantial reforms were made over the decade when it was regularly monitored by European and Bosnian political bodies and officials. human rights.

Inside the prison’s tailoring shop earlier this month, inmates appeared to enjoy light jokes while sewing protective masks. Most said they freely agree to be vaccinated against COVID-19, as well as to make and wear face masks as additional protection.

Sewing masks is “a way to spend quality time in prison and at the same time contribute to society,” Kahriman said.

Bosnia, with a population of 3.3 million, has reported nearly 290,000 cases of the virus and more than 13,300 deaths from COVID-19 during the pandemic, one of the worst infection and death rates in Europe.

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