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NYC sends COVID vaccine to Riker's Island and other city jails as vulnerable citizens wait

New York City's jail health officials have begun vaccinating medical staff against the coronavirus, and plan to start inoculating corrections officers and inmates as early as this week.

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Ari Hoffman Seattle WA
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New York City's jail health officials have begun vaccinating medical staff against the coronavirus, and plan to start inoculating corrections officers and inmates as early as this week.

According to The City, Dr. Patsy Yang, senior vice president for Correctional Health Services, wrote in an email to staff on Sunday that the de Blasio administration recently got permission from the state to “offer the COVID-19 vaccine to our highest risk patients.”

Correctional Health Services handles medical care for the almost 5,000 inmates currently held at Rikers Island and other city-operated jails.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has prioritized jail officers and other staff who work with inmates for immunization against the coronavirus.

Nine jail officers in New York City have died from COVID-19 complications, while 1,609 staff members have contracted the virus. Records indicate that three inmates have died and hundreds of others have contracted the virus. There were 48 active cases of the virus among city prisoners as of Dec. 25, 2020.

The 4,894 people in custody as of Dec. 25 represent close to the lowest population in decades following furloughs and releases of many prisoners by the de Blasio administration, many of which have since re-offended.

Last week, the city began vaccinating city EMTs and firefighters, and plan to proceed with police officers next.

The Cuomo and de Blasio administrations have received an enormous amount of criticism for the slow pace and prioritization of the vaccine rollout to the general population, especially those in the at risk categories for the virus.

"Vaccination in New York City is basically only occurring during regular business hours," City Councilmember Mark Levine (D-Manhattan) tweeted Sunday. "Very little on weekends. Almost none on holidays."

"We are in a war-like situation," added Levine, who chairs the Council’s Health Committee. “We need to be vaccinating TWENTY FOUR-SEVEN. We are losing precious time.”

According to CNN, "a select amount of full-time federal prison employees are expected to receive the Covid-19 vaccination beginning on Wednesday."

Emery Nelson, spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons, said Monday in a statement to the outlet that "a few" of the facilities are expected to begin receiving the vaccine on Wednesday, and it will be made available to full-time employees.

"Vaccinating staff protects the staff member, the inmates at the facility, and the community," Nelson said in the statement. "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."

The New York Post reported under New York’s current “Vaccination Program,” its state prisons fall into Phase Two in terms of who gets vaccinated. "That category — after the top one involving front-line health-care workers and nursing-home residents — also includes first-responders such as cops and other essential workers."

Democrat controlled states have followed the CDC guidance in prioritizing inmates for the vaccine. New Jersey and Washington State have started to vaccinate inmates. Democratic Representative Ayanna Pressley (MA), and member of the progressive "Squad," advocated for prisoners to be prioritized in Massachusetts for the vaccine. Six other states are prioritizing prisoners following health care workers and nursing home staff, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based criminal justice think tank.

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