COVID-19 vaccinations start in North Carolina prisons

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About 1,000 of the 1,300 COVID-19 vaccine doses set aside for North Carolina's prisons were sent to the facilities this week.

Four prisons are regional hubs for the first portion of vaccine deliveries from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The North Carolina National Guard and prison health care workers started administering the Moderna vaccines Wednesday. More doses are expected each week.

“Prisons were not made with social distancing in mind at the time when they were constructed, so we're dealing with a very difficult situation,” North Carolina Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee said Thursday. “It is challenging our staff. It's challenging our offender population.”

Receiving a COVID-19 vaccination is voluntary and is available to prison health care workers, prison staff assigned to areas with COVID-19-positive inmates and staff and inmates who are age 75 or older. The allocation could extend to those age 65 or older if supplies last.

There are 404 active COVID-19 cases among the 29,000 inmates in North Carolina prisons. The rate of positive tests is 1.4%, the agency's dashboard showed. As of Thursday, 41 inmates have died from COVID-19 complications.

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) has tested the entire prison population and staff, administering more than 80,000 coronavirus tests. The NCDPS is required to test staff members every two weeks, according to a Wake County Superior Court judge's ruling in December. Local civil rights groups sued the NCDPS, claiming the state was not doing enough to protect prisoners from contracting COVID-19.

Some of the prisons' staff was previously vaccinated through local health departments, officials said. At least seven staff members have died from COVID-19 complications, according to reports.

“Our custody officers live and work in those local communities. They're exposed to these offenders while they're at work,” Ishee said. “The more we can protect the offenders and our staff, the more we're protecting the community at large. So that's really how we look at this. It's that public health and public safety perspective.”





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