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‘A Turning Point’: Thousands in PA Prisons Will Be Offered COVID-19 Vaccine

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The Philadelphia Inquirer: Joseph Darius Jaafari - April 8, 2021

All people who live and work inside Pennsylvania’s prisons will soon be offered the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, ending a long wait exacerbated by a lack of transparency about coronavirus infections.

At least 11 of the state’s 23 prisons have started to receive the vaccine, with thousands of inmates and corrections staff expected to be offered a shot in coming weeks, according to corrections officials and incarcerated people.

That’s a significant expansion of availability. In February, only three prisons designated as medical facilities — SCI-Laurel Highlands, Muncy, and Waymart — were offered the Moderna vaccine.

Now, all 39,000 prisoners and 16,000 workers will be offered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, said Maria Bivens, spokesperson for the Department of Corrections. The department ordered the doses last week, she said, and prisons started administering them Monday, though the timeline to complete the rollout is unclear.

The state is not making public how many inmates and staff have already been vaccinated.

“This is a turning point in the pandemic,” said Claire Shubik-Richards, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, the state’s unofficial ombudsman for prisoners and their families. “Nursing homes and prisons continue to be the catalyst for large outbreaks in communities across the county. Vaccinating people living and working in Pennsylvania prisons is a major step toward ending the pandemic in the commonwealth.”

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