1/3 of Michigan inmates have been boosted against COVID-19

State is 1 of just 4 in country to publish prisoner booster shot data

By: - January 12, 2022 11:15 am

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Michigan is one of just four states to publicly disclose how many of its 32,000 state inmates are receiving COVID-19 booster shots, a national report has found. About one-third of prisoners have gotten a booster dose so far.

The Michigan Department of Corrections (DOC) is also one of just 22 of the country’s state correctional departments to provide substantive vaccination data for incarcerated people, in general.

The Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that supports reforming the criminal justice system to end mass incarceration, first published the report in December. The PPI surveyed state websites to obtain the information, and came back with the conclusion that only Michigan, Delaware, Missouri and Minnesota are publicly revealing data on how many prisoners have gotten booster shots.

Michigan's Department of Corrections
Department of Corrections | Susan J. Demas

“Given the scarcity of COVID-19 vaccination data, it is concerning but perhaps not surprising that we struggled to find data on booster doses administered,” the PPI report reads.

“… Publicly available and regularly updated COVID-19 prison data — including vaccination and booster data — are crucial for holding public officials, politicians, and legislatures accountable, as well as for helping families and the general public obtain even the simplest information about COVID-19 in their loved ones’ facilities and local communities.”

As of Thursday, there are 32,010 total inmates housed in Michigan’s 27 correctional facilities. Of those, 22,194 (about 69%) have been fully vaccinated — with either one single-dose shot of Johnson & Johnson, or two shots of either Moderna or Pfizer — and 9,973 (about 31%) have received a booster dose.

“Now that we’ve got about one-third, about 10,000 prisoners who’ve been boosted, that’s a pretty big achievement. And we want to keep going,” DOC spokesperson Chris Gautz said Tuesday.

“Our plan is that by the end of this month, every prisoner would have been given access to the booster that wanted it.”

COVID-19 booster shots are helpful in boosting immunity to the virus, as the effects of being fully vaccinated wanes after months. Incarcerated people are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 as tight living quarters can make it easy for outbreaks to spread.

“The number of prisoner deaths certainly has gone dramatically down since vaccines [and boosters] were made widely available in the prisons,” Gautz said. “So it’s clear that it works and it prevents you from getting much much more sick and potentially dying.”

Gautz said the department began administering doses to inmates in November 2021. The Michigan National Guard has helped out with that process, with some help from some local hospitals for more rural prisons.

The PPI report notes that, without public data about booster shots from more than 40 other states, there is no evidence that those states are providing boosters to inmates at all.

“The more information that’s provided, the better,” Gautz said. “There’s nothing about this that we would do in the dark. We want to make sure that that information is clear for everyone to see.”

But while Michigan does better on these metrics than most other states, left missing out of the disclosure is data on correctional staff vaccinations and boosters.

Since Michigan does not have a mandate for all state workers to be vaccinated, Gautz said, the department does not administer its own vaccines like it does for inmates; instead, staff may or may not choose to receive shots outside of work. This makes it virtually impossible for the DOC to track these numbers, even if it wanted to.

“We don’t have those numbers the way we do for prisoners, because we’re the ones that are providing those [vaccines to prisoners],” he said. “Staff don’t have to do it and they don’t have to tell us if they have as a condition of their employment, and they would get it on their own anyway. So there’s no way to have that number.”

Our plan is that by the end of this month, every prisoner would have been given access to the booster that wanted it.

– Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson Chris Gautz

The department has also been experiencing a surge in cases among inmates and staff, as the rest of the state has, while the country battles with a new COVID-19 wave brought on by the more infectious omicron variant.

“Our staff numbers and prisoner numbers have been growing since Thanksgiving. And since Christmas and New Year’s, those numbers have really gone up,” Gautz said.

There are currently 1,556 active COVID-19 cases among prisoners; of those, 686 cases were newly detected since last Wednesday.

Gautz says that “anywhere from 50 to 100 employees per day” cannot come into work because of positive COVID-19 tests.

In total, the DOC has recorded a total of 26,300 positive cases statewide and 162 prisoner deaths, according to Michigan’s COVID-19 dashboard.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reported Monday that a total of 1,681,135 Michiganders have tested positive for COVID-19 and 27,8778 have died from the virus — an additional 44,524 cases and 56 deaths since Friday.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).

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