Alabama to begin vaccinating prison inmates

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The Alabama prison system announced Thursday that it will begin vaccinating inmates for COVID-19 after previously only making vaccine available to prison officers and staff.

The Alabama Department of Corrections announced that on April 12 it will begin vaccinating inmates who want to receive the vaccine. The prison system estimated that it will initially have 6,000 – 7,000 doses available to begin inoculating inmates.

“As with our staff vaccination plan – we will begin with those facilities that house our most vulnerable inmates. Our intent is to inoculate entire facilities at one time – not focus on particular age groups or demographics,” the prison system wrote in an emailed response.

Alabama ranks sixth in the country for inmate deaths from COVID-19 per 10,000 prisoners, according to data gathered by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press. In Alabama prisons, 63 inmates and 3 staff members have died after contracting COVID-19. Inmates and families have described the difficulty of avoiding the disease because of crowded dorms where inmates cannot socially distance.

The vaccinations will begin at four facilities: the Hamilton Aged and Infirmed Center; the Hamilton Community-Based Facility/Community Work Center; the Limestone Correctional Facility and the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.

The prison system is not requiring inmates or staff to become vaccinated.

Inmates at one prison, Bullock Correctional Facility in Union Springs, began being vaccinated Thursday after the state health department offered 1,400 doses to the prison to ensure the doses did not expire after severe weather caused the cancellations of clinics.

Prisoners are prioritized under federal vaccine guidelines, as well as the state vaccine plan that follows those guidelines, because of their increased risk of infection because of congregant living conditions. In many Alabama prison dormitories, inmates live in crowded rows of beds, or bunk beds, with less than a few feet between inmates.

However, the prison system has so far prioritized vaccinations for prison staff, saying they are how the virus enters the systems.

“This strategy is key to mitigating the spread of the disease, as staff are the primary source of COVID-19’s entry into our facilities,” the system wrote in an email.

Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.