Guantanamo Bay detainees to receive swine flu vaccine

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Terrorism suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay naval base will soon get swine flu vaccines, despite complaints that American civilians should have priority, a military spokesman said Nov. 1 in a report by the Associated Press.

Army Maj. James Crabtree, a spokesman for the U.S. jail facility in southeast Cuba, said the doses should start arriving this month, with guards and then inmates scheduled for inoculations.

He acknowledged that there might be an "emotional response" from critics who argue that terror suspects should not be allocated swine-flu medications while members of the U.S. public are still waiting because of a vaccine shortage.

But he said U.S. military officials are "responsible for the health and care of the detainee population."

Medical personnel at Guantanamo requested the doses, but Crabtree said he did not know how many.

Detainees will be vaccinated "entirely on a voluntary basis," he said. "There is always going to be a segment of the population that is going to refuse," either due to anxiety about a shot or to "distrust of our motivations."

Health officials have recommended that people in high-risk groups receive the swine flu vaccination first. There has been heated debate in several U.S. states about where prisoners should fall in the pecking order of vaccine recipients.

A spokesman for Physicians for Human Rights, an international medical group, said there are "certain basic obligations the U.S. has to its prisoners," and that vaccinations for influenza fall into that category.

About 215 detainees remain at the detention center.