Maine inmates face a monthslong wait to be vaccinated against COVID-19, even though the inoculation of corrections officers is already underway.
That’s despite the fact that the state’s prison population is at higher risk of infection and the virus surged through correctional facilities late last year.
Earlier this month, the state updated its vaccination plan to include police officers, firefighters and corrections officers in Phase 1A. As of Tuesday, 200 prison employees have been vaccinated, with 30 percent of eligible employees declining the shots, the Portland Press Herald reported.
In a letter, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine asked the state to include people who live and work in the prisons and jails to be included in Phase 1, estimating that incarcerated people have a nearly 500 percent higher infection rate than the entire state, according to the Press Herald. The ACLU did not get a response.
“Vaccinating some prison and jail staff still leaves incarcerated people vulnerable to contracting COVID-19,” Meaghan Sway, the ACLU policy director told the Press Herald. “Staff who choose not to be vaccinated risk bringing the virus into jails and prisons. Once COVID-19 enters a facility, it has the potential of creating a massive outbreak because of the close congregate setting.”
But there is no specific plan for vaccinating those in the system that they oversee. An outdated plan from October lists those in state jails and prison in Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout, but that is not expected to start until June.
It’s a long wait, considering jails and prisons nationwide have seen some of the country’s largest outbreaks. Maine avoided large correctional facility outbreaks until late last year.
State health authorities started investigating an outbreak at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham in late October, and that outbreak eventually infected 143 inmates and 17 employees, the state’s largest. Another outbreak in May infected four inmates there.
York County Jail had the state’s first large jail outbreak, where more than 80 inmates, staff and their family testing positive after a jail employee attended an Aug. 7 wedding in the Millinocket region.
A Department of Corrections survey showed that some of the state’s jails weren’t requiring all staff, visitors and inmates to wear masks, and the York County Jail even had a ban on masks before the outbreak there to avoid alarming the inmates.