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No Timetable for Prison Vaccinations in Virginia Yet

Building behind barbed-wire fence
The Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center earlier this year. (Photo: Steve Helber/AP)

It’s unclear when prisoners in Virginia will receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The governor’s three-phase distribution plan does not specifically mention people who are incarcerated in prisons and jails. Correctional facilities have been hit hard by the pandemic. 
 
According to the Virginia Department of Corrections, around 5,300 offenders have tested positive for the virus inside state-run correctional facilities so far and 35 have died. 

VADOC reported more than 200 active cases and one death among staff.  

Virginia doesn’t have a plan yet for approximately 25,000 people who are housed in state prisons. 

Alena Yarmosky, spokesperson for Governor Ralph Northam, said VADOC health care workers and correctional officers working in infirmaries fall under the definition of “health care personnel” and are therefore included in the first phase of the distribution plan. 
 
But she said the Virginia Department of Health is still waiting for recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. 
 
“These recommendations will guide future allocation of the vaccine,” Yarmosky said.  

Maria Reppas, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health, said there is no timeline for when those recommendations will come down. 

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit, criminal justice research and advocacy group, most state’s plans mention prisons in the vaccine rollout. That's because prisoners are locked up in cramped conditions, where handwashing and showering is limited and keeping personal spaces clean is difficult said spokesperson Wanda Bertram. But she said Virginia’s plan is less clear. 

“These facilities are [where] some of the worst outbreaks of the coronavirus are taking place. It’s still going on,” Bertram said. “Overwhelmingly I think the news is good, but we’re still pushing states to prioritize incarcerated people more than they have been so far.”