255 Colorado prison inmates 70 or older have received the COVID-19 vaccine


    Andrew Harmon, interim director of pharmacy at UCHealth Northern Colorado, holds up three of four vials containing the first rounds of the Covid-19 vaccines at UC Health Poudre Valley Hospital on Dec. 14, 2020, in Fort Collins. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post, Pool)

    The Colorado Department of Corrections has begun administering COVID-19 vaccines to inmates in state prisons who are 70 and older.

    As of Jan. 8, 86 out of 255 eligible inmates had received the vaccine, according to Annie Skinner, a CDOC spokeswoman. In total, CDOC has administered 2,061 vaccines between inmates, front-line health care workers, and correctional workers.

    “We are currently working on vaccinating the rest to meet the Governor’s deadline of vaccinating Coloradans 70 years or older by February 28th,” Skinner said in an email.

    A total of 7,819 inmates and 1,365 staff members have tested positive for the virus since the beginning of the pandemic and 25 people have died, according to the CDOC COVID-19 dashboard. According to the department’s inmate population dashboard, as of June 30, 1,237 inmates were over the age of 60.

    The first draft of Colorado’s vaccine distribution plan placed inmates near the top of the priority list. But the latest version scrubs all mention of incarcerated people. The change came after Gov. Jared Polis said during a media briefing that prisoners would not get the vaccine before “free people.” His response got swift public push-back and caught the attention of national media outlets. 

    “Inmate status will not make a difference in terms of timing of receipt of the vaccine,” Skinner said. “Someone who falls into a category for early priority of the vaccine and is in CDOC custody will receive the vaccine at the same time as someone in the same category who is outside CDOC.”

    Criminal justice advocates have continued to push for prison inmates to be bumped up on the vaccine priority list because they face a greater risk of catching the virus in the overcrowded and poorly ventilated facilities. Seven out of the top 10 outbreaks in Colorado are within correctional facilities, according to the latest outbreak data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    Nationwide, the mortality rate for COVID-19 among prisoners is 45% higher than the overall rate, according to the Associated Press.