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While Federal Prisoners Died of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, BOP Staff Used Up Vaccine Allotment on Themselves

On May 23, 2023, the health, medicine and life sciences journal STAT released a scathing report detailing the shabby care prisoners received early in the COVID-19 pandemic at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Devens, Massachusetts. Not only did prison officials fail to perform an adequate number of tests for the disease, they also failed to administer an adequate number of vaccines to prisoners – while staffers hoovered up the prison’s entire allotment.

In March 2021, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that detention facilities test 25% of their incarcerated population each week, thereby allowing everyone to be tested within a month. But in 2021, less than 40% of prisoners held by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in its roughly 100 lockups were tested monthly.

According to a study, states that frequently administered COVID-19 tests reported a significantly lower number of deaths to the disease. However, even after COVID-19 tests became widespread and easily available in 2021, federal prisons were not complying with CDC’s testing recommendations.

Moreover, after vaccinations became available in December 2020, it was another 90 days before some prisons started providing the vaccine to prisoners in February 2021 – even though prisoners living in close quarters were at a much higher risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, the CDC warned. That was why one of the first BOP prisons to get the vaccine in December 2020 was FMC-Devens, which is one of just seven lockups for federal prisoners with complex medical conditions.

Yet the first allotment of vaccines went to staffers, so the first prisoner didn’t get his shot until February 11, 2021. By that time, FMC-Devens was tied for last place in vaccine rollout among all BOP prisons. Eight prisoners died at the lockup of complications related to COVID-19 while waiting for the vaccine.

“It’s inexplicable how this could have happened,” said Corene Kendrick, Deputy Director of the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Rollout of vaccine booster shots was similarly hampered. By March 2022, when 78% of residents in U.S. nursing homes had received boosters, the rate was just 25% at six BOP lockups.

Kendrick, whose group sued over COVID-19 conditions to which BOP prisoners were exposed, said the new data revealed that “things were actually worse than what we thought.”  

Source: STAT News

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