Monday, October 20th, 2014

Are they vaccinating detainees at Gitmo?

We explore whether the detainees will get an H1N1 vaccination.
We explore whether the detainees will get an H1N1 vaccination.

The Obama administration's handling of the H1N1 vaccine has given conservatives plenty to complain about. First, the government got behind schedule with its massive vaccination plans. And then came reports that the Pentagon was planning to vaccinate the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Sean Hannity complained of the hypocrisy on his Nov. 2, 2009, show.

"So you were hoping to get the H1N1 vaccine," he said. "Well, if the vaccine hasn't reached a doctor's office near you, that might be because it's on its way to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That's right. A military spokesman announced Gitmo detainees will receive the vaccine sometime this month. That's well before it's expected to be available to the public at large. Seems the Obama administration has its priorities straight. Doesn't it?"

Given the confusion over the program -- and a carefully worded White House denial about the Guantanamo vaccinations -- we decided to look into Hannity's claim. We couldn't put this one to the Truth-O-Meter because of the shifting positions from the Obama administration and the Pentagon, but we thought it would be valuable to explore the facts with this article.

It all started on Oct. 30, when CNN ran a story quoting Maj. Diana R. Haynie, a spokeswoman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay, who said the Pentagon would be offering the H1N1 vaccines to people held at the camp.

"Detainees at JTF Guantanamo are considered to be at higher risk and therefore they will be offered the H1N1 vaccination," she told CNN. "JTF Guantanamo conducts safe, humane, legal and transparent care and custody of detainees. As such, we must provide detainees the medical care necessary to maintain their health."

The Associated Press ran a similar story on Nov. 2.

The news sparked an onslaught of criticism from lawmakers of both parties. They said pregnant women, children and the elderly should have priority access to the limited supply of vaccines over the estimated 220 Guantanamo detainees.

On Tuesday, Nov. 3, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a press briefing that, "There is no vaccine in Guantanamo, and there's no vaccine on the way to Guantanamo." But the same day, a Pentagon spokesman said that a shipment of vaccines would eventually be sent to the prison. But he said the detainees would get the vaccine only after it was given to active-duty troops, contractors and others working for the government.

The most recent news reports say that about 300 vaccines arrived at the installation on Monday, Nov. 9. According to the Associated Press, it's unlikely those vaccines will be given to prisoners. Instead, they are meant for military personnel, contractors and U.S. workers at the base.

"We have an obligation to provide for the health of [the detainees], but we're faced with a situation where we have a limited amount of vaccines at this time," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told PolitiFact. Assuming there are enough supplies, the detainees would eventually be given the vaccine, he said.

The White House told us that, to date, no prisoners have been vaccinated, but that priority for the vaccine would follow this order: U.S. forces, deployed health care workers (civilian and contractor), civilians, detainees and non-U.S. Defense Department contractors.

So it's not clear if Hannity is right that detainees at Gitmo will get the vaccines before it gets to "a doctor's office near you." So far, the vaccine hasn't gotten to the detainees and the administration hasn't predicted when it will. But there clearly are plans to give the vaccine to the detainees at some point.