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Africa’s prison population should be a priority group to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Incarcerated people across the world have faced terrible outbreaks of the disease (C. Franco-Paredes et al. PLoS Negl. Trop. Dis. 14, e0008409; 2020).

People in prisons and other closed settings are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 (see Nature 583, 339–340; 2020) because the buildings are typically overcrowded and have poor ventilation and unsanitary conditions. These people can have chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, which increase the likelihood of poor outcomes, especially because they often have limited access to health care. Staff and visitors are at risk of infection, too, so prisons can drive transmission.

Access to vaccines during a pandemic is a human right, and it is essential that no groups are left out (J. N. Nkengasong et al. Nature 586, 197–199; 2020). We therefore call on African governments, national health authorities and global health bodies to ensure that the continent’s prison populations are included in vaccination programmes.



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