Prisoners to start getting vaccinated next week

Residents and staff at homeless shelters and group homes will also be inoculated

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER said the state’s 13,200 prisoners will begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations on Monday along with about 80,000 residents and staff at homeless shelters, substance use treatment programs, and group homes.

At a State House press conference on Wednesday, Baker was peppered with questions about why prisoners are being given high priority for vaccination in Massachusetts while the general public is already receiving shots in some other states.

Baker defended his administration’s approach of targeting those most vulnerable to COVID-19 first. “These facilities are prioritized because they serve vulnerable populations in densely populated settings, which means they’re at significant risk for contracting COVID-19,” he said.

The governor acknowledged that in some states 25-year-olds are getting vaccinated even though their health risk from COVID-19 is small. He said Massachusetts is focusing at least for the next two to three months on those whose lives are most at risk, including prisoners.

Staff and inmates at prisons and jails in Massachusetts will receive the two-dose Moderna vaccine. Shots will be administered by the health care contractors who serve the various facilities. The inoculations are voluntary, and all staff and inmates at prisons and jails should receive their first doses within three weeks.

The move is part of the fourth step of Phase 1 of the state’s timeline for vaccine distribution, which started in December. The final steps in this phase are scheduled to be completed in February, and will include vaccines for home-based health care workers and health care workers who don’t treat COVID-19 patients, although some hospitals and providers have already distributed them to employees who haven’t been treating coronavirus patients.

The second phase of the rollout is set to begin in mid-February and will start with residents over age 75 and people with two or more serious health conditions.

Prisoner advocates say they’re glad that vaccines for prisoners are being prioritized.

“The reason this is so important is because prisons and jails have been infested with COVID and those major outbreaks are directly contributing to exacerbating community spread outside of prisons and jails,” said Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, which has an ongoing lawsuit to reduce the prison population through home confinement.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

At least 17 Department of Correction prisoners have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and two more prisoners have died in county jails.

As of Tuesday, 315 prisoners under DOC custody have COVID-19, with 128 at NCCI -Gardner, 36 at MCI-Norfolk, 35 at Old-Colony Correctional Center, and the rest at 11 other facilities. At least two additional prisoners were issued medical parole hours before their deaths, prompting advocates to say they should be counted as deaths under DOC custody. Around 19 state prisoners are receiving care at area hospitals.