Inmates getting COVID-19 vaccine while millions struggle to get appointment for shot

CHICAGO (WLS) -- One group of Americans is having no difficulty getting the COVID-19 vaccine: federal prison inmates. In Illinois, state and county prisoners won't be far behind.

It might be tempting to say that crime pays as authorities are vaccinating federal prisoners across the country, while millions of law-abiding citizens can't even get an appointment for the first dose. Inoculating inmates does protect officers and prison staff according to experts. Although guards are also in the first wave of jailhouse vaccinations.

Governor Pritzker explained Friday that state prison inmates aren't line jumping, that it's all part of a CDC recommendation, also being followed by the U.S. Bureau of prisons.

The Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago is one of 68 federal facilities where COVID-19 vaccines have been delivered.

The latest figures have first doses administered to nearly 5,500 inmates and more than 7,500 staff across the country.

More than 2,000 staff and prisoners have already had their second and final doses of the vaccine.

The Bureau of Prisons vaccination plans are laid out in a 31 page internal report that even illustrates where the injection should go, in the upper muscle just above the level of the armpit.

Since the pandemic started, 204 inmates have died from COVID along with three staff.

At Illinois's 25 state correctional centers, prisoner vaccinations will begin in about two weeks according to a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Corrections. There are more than 30,000 inmates in state prisons here.

At the Cook County Jail, detainee vaccinations will be underway "in the very near future" according to a statement provided to the I-Team. Last spring, the county jail had a sizable coronavirus outbreak and ten detainees have died. The jail faced a federal lawsuit alleging inadequate protection. Since then, aggressive jailhouse testing for COVID and sanitation protocols reduced the number of cases. Although since early November there has been a slight rise in positive tests.

Cook County Jail staff vaccinations began Wednesday with more than 900 employees already receiving their first dose. However the county jail is facing a dilemma. They are a detainment facility; not a long-term lock-up. That has them in an unusual corner. What happens to detainees who are released after the first injection? Authorities trying to figure out how those people will get the protection needed from their second shot.
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