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 announced on Tuesday that it will require all staff members within their correctional facilities to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Previously, vaccinations were voluntary.
The announcement is part of a multiagency push to get state employees who interact with vulnerable populations and people in congregate settings vaccinated against the virus as cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across the state. Staff members are required to get the first dose of the vaccine by Sept. 30 and be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31.
“We have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of our staff and the incarcerated individuals in our custody to the best of our ability,” said Dean Williams, the director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, in a written statement. “Some people will say that it is a personal choice whether or not they want to get vaccinated, but it is very difficult to socially distance in congregate settings, and inmates do not have a choice regarding where they live and who they come in contact with.”
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Throughout the pandemic, correctional facilities have been a hotspot for COVID-19 outbreaks, with seven of the 10 largest outbreaks occurring within state prisons or jails earlier in the pandemic. A total of 8,997 incarcerated people and 2,022 staff members have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began and 29 inmates have died, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections’ COVID-19 dashboard. Since Aug. 3, the Department has recorded 31 new staff infections.
Currently, 58.7% of all prison staff are fully vaccinated, according to Annie Skinner, a spokesperson for the CDOC. Among the incarcerated population, 64% are fully vaccinated and another 8% have received at least their first dose.
Staff members can receive their vaccine either through clinics hosted by their department or any of the numerous public options around the state, according to the press release. Staff members must provide proof of vaccination to the department.
The order includes all CDOC employees that interface with the public, inmates or parolees, or who enter into correctional facilities as part of their job assignment. The department will also require other state employees, contract employees, visitors, volunteers and vendors who enter a prison facility to be vaccinated, according to the press release.
Prison staff members have had access to the COVID-19 vaccine since January, alongside first responders and health care workers with less direct contact with COVID-19 patients. The CDOC ran a vaccine incentive program in April and May that gave staff members a $500 bonus to get the vaccine. During the two months, the department spent nearly $2 million to incentivize 3,953 employees to get vaccinated.
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