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Residents Of Maine Correctional Facilities Will Start Getting Coronavirus Vaccines

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REBECCA CONLEY
/
Maine Public
A unit for higher-risk inmates at the Maine State Prison in Warren in 2017.

Residents of Maine's correctional facilities who are 60 or older will start getting coronavirus vaccines next week after logistical and supply challenges prevented an earlier rollout, the state corrections department announced on Tuesday. 

The department also announced Tuesday that eight people at the Maine State Prison in Warren — seven residents and one worker — have recently tested positive for the virus, and that it will be conducting further testing to determine how far the virus has spread. 

During a news conference, state CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah says it has taken time to begin vaccinations in prisons because of logistical challenges. Some vaccines require two doses four weeks apart.

"One of the things I wanted to make sure we understood before we started vaccinating a group of DOC inmates is how many of them will still be in that facility 28 days later?" Shah said.

Shah said a slight boost in vaccine supply — including the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine — has also allowed the state to open vaccinations to older inmates. The corrections department says there are 150 residents across its facilities who are at least 60 years old.

County jails are still waiting to learn when their residents can also get in line for shots, according to Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton. Morton is currently dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected 12 employees and 10 residents at the Penobscot County Jail.

"We've been at the mercy of waiting for the state to release vaccine to the officers," Morton says. "The very day that they did, they were in the arms of my officers here. And so, it's the same thing when it comes to the inmate population. The day that they approve it and provide them to us will be the day that we'll start vaccinating."

Morton says 11 of the 12 employees have recovered since the outbreak was first reported more than two weeks ago. None of the residents have yet recovered. Further testing at the jail is also underway. Morton points out that even if incarcerated residents who are 60 and older are allowed to receive the vaccine, only three people at his jail currently meet that criteria.