Pentagon pauses plan to give Covid vaccine to Guantanamo inmates

Republican politicians' outcry over prison immunisation drive

In this photo reviewed by U.S. military officials, the Office of Military Commissions building used for Periodic Review Board hearings is seen, Thursday, April 18, 2019, in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. The Pentagon has announced plans to move ahead with a military trial for three men held at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who are suspected of involvement in bombings in Indonesia in 2002 and 2003. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The US Department of Defence said it had suspended a plan to give coronavirus vaccines to convicted terrorist prisoners in the detention facility at Guantanamo on Cuba.

The decision, announced on Saturday, followed an outcry in the US, which is struggling to immunise front line workers, the vulnerable and elderly people.

“No Guantanamo detainees have been vaccinated,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Twitter.

“We’re pausing the plan to move forward as we review force protection protocols. We remain committed to our obligations to keep our troops safe.”

The naval base at Guantanamo Bay houses prisoners detained as part of the US “war on terror” and includes senior members of Al Qaeda.

The Pentagon said last week it would administer vaccines to inmates “on a voluntary basis”.

Republicans, including the House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, led the criticism.

“President Biden told us he would have a plan to defeat the virus on day one. He just never told us that it would be to give the vaccine to terrorists before most Americans,” Mr McCarthy said on Twitter.

New York congresswoman Elise Stefanik said: “It is inexcusable and un-American that President Biden is choosing to prioritise vaccinations for convicted terrorists in Gitmo over vulnerable American seniors or veterans.”

The US has been the country hit hardest by the pandemic, with more than 450,000 deaths and 26 million cases.

President Joe Biden pledged to vaccinate 100 million Americans in his first 100 days in office.

But so far. the country’s mass inoculation drive has been beset by errors, including a shortfall in vaccines and technical glitches for people trying to make appointments.

Health officials said the US had administered almost 30 million of the 50 millions doses distributed in the country.