California starts vaccinating inmates, but not at hardest-hit prisons

California prison inmates

California prison system, which has been exceptionally hard-hit by COVID-19, has started vaccinating some inmates.

But inmates at the 25 prisons that have been most affected are yet to receive vaccine shots. The list of the most overwhelmed jails includes Avenal State Prison, San Quentin and the California Institution for Men.

A spokeswoman for J. Clark Kelso, Elizabeth Gransee said on Wednesday that the prison system has decided to prioritize the facilities where “people are at significant risk of becoming infected or severely ill from the coronavirus.”

However, according to a New York Times report, the facilities where the vaccination has started — the California Health Care Facility in Stockton, the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla and the California Medical Facility in Vacaville — have had far fewer infections and deaths than most other California prisons.

Ms Gransee, who is also a court-appointed official who oversees prison health care in the state, would not provide the specific date when vaccinations started at these three facilities. She also declined to provide other details about the state prison system’s vaccination program in response to written questions from NYT.

In all, 25 California prisons have individual caseloads surpassing 1,000. The largest outbreak has been at overcrowded Avenal, in Central California, which has logged more than 3,500 infections. That is one of the nation’s largest known coronavirus clusters.

During the past month, infections at the state’s prisons have nearly doubled and deaths have increased by more than 30 percent, according to a NYT database tracking coronavirus cases in the nation’s correctional facilities.

The state’s handling of the virus has come under repeated criticism. Recently, planned transfers of medically vulnerable inmates from San Quentin to other prisons were abruptly halted after public objections.

This spring, another inmate transfer ultimately led to more than 2,600 infections of inmates and guards and 28 inmate deaths at San Quentin.

The crowded, unsanitary conditions in prisons have made them epicenters for the virus. In recent weeks, there have been heated discussions in some states about whether inmates should receive vaccinations ahead of others.

The infection rate among inmates is more than four times higher than rates among members of the general public, and the death rate is twice as high.

At Avenal, which state figures say is at 116 percent occupancy, Thai Tran, 43, tested positive for the virus last month. Before he fell ill, he had been sleeping in a crowded gym with some 140 other inmates, said his wife, Michelle Tran.

If incarcerated people are to be kept safe from the virus, inmates and correctional officers alike should receive vaccinations, Ms. Tran said.

“My husband didn’t go to Walmart and pick it up,” Ms. Tran said. “He didn’t go to the market and get it. It’s coming in from those coming in from the outside.”

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