In underinoculated Bosnia, the prison population stands out


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

Over 80% of the 2,000 men and women serving prison terms in Bosnia’s 13 prisons have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Compared to just over 27% for the nation as a whole, a rate attributable to a lack of buyers rather than a lack of shots.

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

An example of this is the largest correctional facility in the country, the maximum security prison in the city of Zenica. Over 90% of the prison’s 600 inmates and over 60% of the staff received two vaccinations after an initial attempt to encourage vaccine uptake.

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

The overall vaccination rate of all prison employees in Bosnia has been lower than that of inmates, but is still more than double that of the general population.

Kahric said vaccination is voluntary for inmates in Zenica and other Bosnian prisons. He thinks so many inmates are shot out of comfort; Unlike the general public, inmates cannot bend or ignore the anti-infection rules and must remain in quarantine if they come into contact with an infected person.

Prisoners entitled to weekend vacation are also tested before and after their trips outside. The spread of the virus generally appears to have been better controlled inside Bosnian prisons than outside. No major prison breakouts have been reported since the pandemic began.

“Many members of my family have become infected, including my mother, so I think masking and getting vaccinated is the right way to go,” said Fahro Kahriman, a detainee in Zanica.

In the early days of the pandemic, when most of the world faced a shortage of personal protective equipment, Zenica inmates had to sew face masks as part of the prison’s work program.

The prison produced over 10,000 masks, mostly for internal use but also for the Justice Department for distribution to other correctional facilities, Kahric said. The program continued in parallel with the pandemic.

In the past, Zenica Prison was notorious for its poor human rights record, but significant reforms have been implemented over the decade of regular surveillance by relevant European and Bosnian human rights organs and officials.

In the prison sewing room earlier this month, inmates seemed to be enjoying light jokes while sewing protective face masks together. Most said they voluntarily welcomed being vaccinated against COVID-19 and making and wearing face masks for extra protection.

Sewing masks is “a way to spend valuable time in prison while making a contribution to society,” said Kahriman.

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


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