The COVID-19 vaccine has been rolled out to U.S. prisons where the residents within have no option other than to receive it. The virus has already claimed thousands of inmate’s lives, and at one point, one in five of them were infected. But the rough and tumble crew who keep watch over this dangerous breed of humans, the guards, do have an option, and they’re saying hell no.
Earlier this year a correctional officer in Florida surveyed his fellow guards in a private FB group by simply asking, “Will you take the COVID-19 vaccine if offered?” Out of the 475 responses received, only 40 said yes.
One might expect this reaction in a state where the pandemic has never been taken as seriously as elsewhere, but it isn’t just Florida. Over half of all Massachusetts Department of Correction employees have already turned the vaccine down. California topped out an even half who said they would prefer to wait. Prison workers in Rhode Island aren’t rolling their sleeves up either, and the same thing is going on in Iowa.
As expected, health officials are concerned. Largely due to their confinement, the infection rate among prisoners is three times greater than it is for those living in the free world. But this is not the only reason. Prison employees have notoriously ignored safety precautions, from wardens on down. The greatest majority have refused to wear masks or to enforce social distancing guidelines and safe hygiene practices. There have been numerous reported cases of inmate’s symptoms being downplayed or ignored.
The Associated Press teamed up with Nicole Lewis, Beth Schwartzapfel, and Tom Meagher from the Marshall Project to the bottom of this ongoing issue. On the condition of anonymity for fear of getting canned, they had little problem getting prison guards to voice their opinions. Union leaders and prison doctors weren’t bashful either.
Front-line correctional officers and prison medical staff were offered early doses of the vaccine in December and January at 37 prisons nationwide. Thus far roughly 106,000 prison employees, inclusive of those working on the Federal level, have been inoculated with the first dosage. But, only a small percentage of them have been correctional officers.
Many of the guards say it’s the unknown short and long-term effects that have them saying no, while an alarming number of them have plunged headfirst into conspiracy theories and don’t want to get computer-chipped by Bill Gates. Another reason is their distrust of the prison administrations handling the virus since its onset. A surprising number have said they’ll accept being fired before they allow it to happen.
As a side note. It isn’t only correctional officers who are refusing to get stabbed. Front-line health professionals, nursing home employees, and police officers, all of whom are extremely vulnerable to the virus’s clutches, are also saying no.
Public health experts all agree how the prison workers refusing the vaccine are hampering their efforts at getting an out-of-control situation in hand. Poorly ventilated crowded prisons provide the perfect atmosphere for the virus to thrive. Upon completing their shifts the unmasked guards return to the communities in which they live only to contribute what they may have contracted to their friends, relatives, and neighbors.
As of this moment, 388,000 prisoners and 105,000 prison workers have fallen ill with COVID-19. In Arizona, Michigan, and Kansas, 1 out of 3 employees has had to call in sick. Also as of this moment, 2,474 prisoners and 193 staff members have lost their battles with the virus.
Brie Williams, a correctional health expert at the University of California, said, “People who work in prisons are an essential part of the equation that will lead to reduced disease and less chance of renewed explosive COVID-19 outbreaks in the future.”
Until correctional officers decide getting immunized is the best route for them, the prisons in which they work, and their local communities, there is no solution in sight. This is still America where nobody can force anybody to do anything against their will.
Are the guards correct in their stance? What would you do if you were in their shoes?