The Alabama Department of Corrections isn’t yet ready to begin administering vaccines to incarcerated people, despite the state’s prisons ranking ninth highest in COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 inmates.
ADOC is working to be able to provide vaccines for those staff and inmates who want them, however, an ADOC spokeswoman told APR on Monday. Public health experts say those living in congregate settings, such as nursing homes, jails, prisons and group homes are at greater risk of contracting the deadly disease.
There have been 60 deaths of inmates who had tested positive for COVID-19 either before or after death, according to ADOC, which places the state’s prison system as ninth highest in COVID-19 deaths in the nation, per 100,000 inmates, according to a joint project by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press.
There have also been three COVID-19 deaths among prison workers in the state, and 1,413 cases among inmates and 978 among prison staff.
The Alabama Department of Public Health on Feb. 8 will allow those 65 and older, teachers, certain other frontline workers and people living in congregate settings, which include inmates, to receive vaccinations.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris told reporters during a Jan. 27 briefing that incarcerated people are included in the department’s current phase 1b, which includes vaccinating those who live in congregate settings.
ADPH’s previously-released vaccination allocation plan listed people who were living in “prisons or jail” as being included in phase 1b, but the plan released by ADPH on Jan. 29, when the department announced the move into phase 1b, does not include specific mention of those living in prisons or jails. That plan instead states vaccines will be available to those “working or living in congregate settings including but not limited to homeless shelters and group homes.”
“I’m not sure, to be honest, what the Department of Corrections’s plan is on that, but people who live in congregate settings are included,” Harris said on Jan. 27.
ADPH had not offered vaccines to ADOC for incarcerated people, Harris said at the time, noting that ADOC has its own medical provider who “if they are seeking vaccine, will put them in the list with everyone else who’s seeking vaccine.”
“The real problem right now is just scarcity. As I mentioned, we have almost 900 providers out there who are seeking vaccine. Last week, a little more than 100 of them were able to receive any product,” Harris said.
ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Rose in an emailed response to APR on Monday said that the department will offer the vaccine to staff and inmates, and is working to put the infrastructure in place to be able to do so once ordered vaccines arrive.
“We have ordered the necessary refrigeration equipment to safely store the vaccine, and refrigeration locations have been identified at every facility. Currently, these locations are being properly wired for installation of the refrigeration and data monitoring equipment,” Rose said. “Further, orders have been placed for enough vaccine to inoculate all ADOC staff as well as all inmates over the age of 65 in our system.”
With vaccinations becoming available for staff and inmates beginning Monday, advocates for incarcerated people are concerned that ADOC isn’t moving fast enough to ensure the life-saving drugs can be administered as quickly as possible.
“This is consistent with the lack of urgency ADOC has demonstrated to addressing the spread of COVID-19 within their facilities and implementing adequate protocols to protect incarcerated individuals and staff from the spread of the virus,” said Dillon Nettles, policy and advocacy director at ACLU of Alabama, in a message to APR.
“60 incarcerated people have died from a COVID-19 and if ADOC does not move swiftly to administer vaccinations that ADPH has confirmed they are eligible for then those numbers will continue to rise. The health and well-being of those in custody should be paramount,” Nettles continued.