Correctional officers across the country are shunning the COVID-19 vaccine over fears of both short-term and long-term side effects of the most rapidly-developed immunization in US history.
According to an investigation by the Associated Press and the Marshall Project, while over 106,000 prison employees across 29 systems have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, many won't take it - joining countless health care workers, nursing home employees and police officers who refuse to become vaccinated despite regular exposure to the public.
Prisons are coronavirus hot spots, so when staff move between the prisons and their home communities after work, they create a pathway for the virus to spread. More than 388,000 incarcerated people and 105,000 staff members have contracted the coronavirus over the last year. In states like Michigan, Kansas and Arizona, that's meant 1 in 3 staff members have been infected. In Maine, the state with the lowest infection rate, 1 in 20 staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Nationwide, those infections proved fatal for 2,474 prisoners and at least 193 staff members. -AP via Komo News
In one Florida federal prison, FCI Miami, "fewer than half of the facility's 240 employees have been fully vaccinated as of March 11," according to corrections officer union president Kareen Troitino, who said that many of the workers who refused were concerned over the vaccine's efficacy and side effects.
In January, Troitino and FCI Miami warden Sylvester Jenkins invited employees to join them in getting vaccinated "in an act of solidarity," writing "Even though we recognize and respect that this motion is not mandatory; nevertheless, with the intent of promoting staff safety, we encourage all staff to join us."
Just 25 employees signed up despite the facility having had two major COVID-19 outbreaks; one last July, when 400 prisoners out of 852 were suspected of having the disease, and a second wave in December which struck approximately 100 people housed in the prison's minimum-security camp.
The trend is nationwide:
In Massachusetts, more than half the people employed by the Department of Correction declined to be immunized. A statewide survey in California showed that half of all correction employees will wait to be vaccinated. In Rhode Island, prison staff have refused the vaccine at higher rates than the incarcerated, according to medical director Dr. Justin Berk. And in Iowa, early polling among employees showed a little more than half the staff said they'd get vaccinated.
As states have begun COVID-19 inoculations at prisons across the country, corrections employees are refusing vaccines at alarming rates, causing some public health experts to worry about the prospect of controlling the pandemic both inside and outside. Infection rates in prisons are more than three times as high as in the general public. Prison staff helped accelerate outbreaks by refusing to wear masks, downplaying people's symptoms, and haphazardly enforcing social distancing and hygiene protocols in confined, poorly ventilated spaces ripe for viral spread. -AP
"Everybody is on edge" says Troitino, who's worried that so many correctional officers and prisoners haven't been vaccinated - adding that officers are "constantly shuttling sick and elderly prisoners to the hospital," leaving a skeleton crew to operate the facility.
Explanations for why prison employees are refusing the jab essentially revolve around 'right wing misinformation' and 'debunked conspiracy theories,' according to the report.
Or, perhaps they're leery of taking what is essentially still an experimental vaccine for a disease which kills mostly old, obese, and medically compromised people, and which doesn't prevent one from contracting or transmitting it.
Read the rest of the report here.