Federal prisons to prioritize staffers over prisoners for COVID-19 vaccine

National News

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is expecting its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday and said it will initially administer the drug to its correctional officers and health care staffers. The agency said inmates will follow “when additional doses are available.”

Operation Warp Speed selected the bureau as one of the five federal entities to receive the vaccine, saying federal corrections officers are eligible for the vaccine as members of law enforcement. Throughout the pandemic, many of the nation’s prisons have emerged as hotspots for the virus.

“The BOP plans to initially offer the vaccine to full-time staff given that staff — who come and go between the facility and the community — present a higher potential vector for transmission,” Emery Nelson, a bureau spokesperson, said in a statement to CBS News. “Vaccinating staff protects the staff member, the inmates at the facility, and the community.”

The bureau employs approximately 36,000 staffers across 122 facilities. Nearly 2,400 of them have recovered after contracting the virus, but over 1,700 staff members are currently positive. Two have died since the pandemic began. 

The bureau said it is up to Operations Warp Speed to decide when inmates will receive the vaccine. A spokesperson for the operation deferred to the Bureau of Prisons when asked about the timeline.

Of the nearly 139,000 inmates in federal custody, 31,233 of them have tested positive for the coronavirus. More than 6,000 federal inmates are currently positive with the virus and 163 others have died.  

The bureau would not say where the vaccines were being distributed for security reasons, but the spokesperson said, “we can share that the vaccine is expected to be distributed to a few of the BOP’s correctional institutions in different regions of the country.”

“The BOP is committed to ensuring all staff and inmates who want to receive the vaccine will be able to do so at the earliest opportunity; however, as in all communities, supply of the vaccine within the BOP will be limited for some time.  We continue to work with Operation Warp Speed to ensure we are ready to receive and administer the vaccine when allocations are made to us,” the bureau said in a statement.

In April, the Justice Department’s watchdog began a series of remote inspections of 16 federal prisons to determine whether or not they adhered to pandemic guidance from the CDC, Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons. Ten of those reports have been completed and Inspector General Michael Horowitz has found that some prisons failed to properly isolate inmates and in other cases, staffers were not properly equipped with personal protection equipment. 

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