The ADOC has had 1,413 prisoners test positive for COVID-19 and 978 staff since the beginning of the pandemic. It has registered 61 prisoner deaths and three staff due to COVID-19, according to a story the same day in The Alabama Reporter.
The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) moved to statewide eligibility for vaccination in January of this year. People in prisons and jails were initially listed as top-target groups for vaccination, along with others ‘‘working or living in congregant settings.’’ But a follow up plan did “not include specific mention of those living in prisons or jails,” the Reporter said. As of press time, no prisoners had been vaccinated and it was estimated that none would be before at least the end of March and quite possibly later.
Recent modifications in the ADOC now make it unclear whether state prisons were prepared.
According to ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Rose, vaccination orders have been placed in quantities sufficient to inoculate all of the ADOC’s staff and personnel, but only those prisoners currently over the age of 65.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said all prisoners meet the criteria of congregate settings. But he added, ‘‘I’m not sure, to be honest, what the Department of Corrections’ plan is on that.” Vaccinations planned for the end of March in the ADOC may be delayed by as much as another 30 days because the prisons are not prepared to appropriately store it. Refrigeration units and specific monitoring equipment must be installed in each of the prisons in order to receive the inoculation, and that had not occurred according to news accounts.
A second ADOC spokeswoman, Kristi Simpson, said the national demand has forced companies to backdate certain orders. ‘‘Due to high national demand, the refrigeration equipment has not yet shipped — we anticipate it will ship soon and expect it to arrive in early March,’’ she stated. ‘‘Once the equipment arrives, is properly installed, and subsequently is inspected by the ADPH to ensure the vaccine can be safely and securely stored, we anticipate our vaccine orders will be delivered and the inoculation process can begin — likely in late March. As such, these time frames are best estimations and are subject to change.’’
ADOC health-care provider Wexford Health is responsible for ordering sufficient vaccines for the prisoner population and staff. One problem is the vaccines are not yet manufactured in sufficient quantities to keep up with demand.
Prisoner advocate groups are concerned that the ADOC is not moving with any urgency to ensure the safety, health and well-being of the prisoners in its charge. Simpson responded: ‘‘I should note that all parties involved — the ADPH and the ADOC — are at the mercy of supply and demand economy. Orders for this necessary refrigeration equipment are not just delayed for us, but for everyone due to high demand and limited supplies. This is also obviously true of the vaccines themselves, which you can see playing out across the country to varying degrees.’’
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