Prison Cells

Just over 50% of prison staffers in Colorado have been vaccinated, a Department of Corrections official said this week, despite months of eligibility and a $500 incentive to get inoculated.

Correctional workers were among the first Coloradans to be eligible for the vaccine; they were given the green light as part of the second wave, alongside lower-risk health care workers, those 70 years of age and older, and first responders. But as of early April, fewer than 50% had chosen to be vaccinated, which prompted the department to offer the incentive.

After the bonus was offered more than a month ago, 423 staff members "expressed interest in getting the vaccine (who) had previously not signed up," said Annie Skinner, spokeswoman for the Corrections Department.

As of Friday, 3,300 of 6,126 staffers have been vaccinated, according to Skinner and up-to-date data published on the department's website. That shakes out to just under 54%. 

"We would obviously like to see 100% of our staff, and all other eligible Coloradans choose to get vaccinated," Skinner said in an email. "That being said, our staff vaccination numbers are similar to what we are seeing in other correctional departments across the country. We have had some staff members who wanted to wait and see, and now that the vaccine has been in circulation for a while, they are signing up to get vaccinated."

A message sent to CO WINS, the union representing correctional workers and other state employees, was not returned Friday.

"At this time, we are going to continue to provide education about the vaccine and make access easy for our staff," Skinner wrote. "We are still continuing to see our vaccination number grow, and we are hopeful that trend will continue."

The numbers are better for inmates: 9,774 have been vaccinated, according to the department's website. That's nearly 4,000 more than in early April.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Public Health and Environment said the state had allocated $4 million for programs to incentivize vaccine uptake. Two state agencies — the corrections and human service departments — are currently operating incentive programs, though more may eventually follow.

Uptake among long-term care facility workers, another group of employees who'd lagged behind in vaccination rates, has improved slightly over the past month. In early April, just over 62% of those staffers had been vaccinated. As of this week, that number had risen to roughly 65%. 

That differs significantly from the residents they serve and care for. Uptake among those Coloradans, who faced the most severe risk from COVID, has been among the highest in the state for one particular group.

A message sent to Doug Farmer, the head of nursing home group the Colorado Health Care Association, was not returned Friday. He previously said that some facilities were beginning to offer their own incentive programs. But many aren't — and likely won't — require their staff to be inoculated, he said last month, because that may drive employees out of that workforce. Those facilities can't handle losing staff right now, he said.

Like prison staff, long-term care staffers were among the first to be given the green light to receive a vaccine. Their continued sluggish vaccination rates are particularly low compared to their charges and to other employee and age groups in Colorado, many of whom have been eligible for shorter periods of time.

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