California’s high-risk inmates to get COVID-19 vaccines

A guard tower overlooks the fence surrounding the California Correctional Health Care Facility in Stockton.
A guard tower overlooks the fence surrounding the California Correctional Health Care Facility in Stockton in this file photo.
(Associated Press)

A state prison medical facility in the Central Valley has received some of the first coronavirus vaccines, which will be administered to inmates and employees.

The California Health Care Facility, Stockton houses inmates with special medical needs. At least 150 of its 2,400 inmates are positive for COVID-19.

Steve Crouch, director of public employees for the International Union of Operating Engineers, which represents prison maintenance and systems employees, said 65 inmates and employees volunteered to receive the vaccine Tuesday. Crouch said the employees who were vaccinated are in high-risk positions dealing with potentially infected inmates.

Two other prisons — the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla and the California Medical Facility, Vacaville — will also begin to vaccinate employees and high-risk inmates, according to the California Correctional Health Care Services, which provides medical care to inmates.


“Supply of the vaccine is limited and will be distributed according to state and federal guidelines,” the agency said in a statement. “Our first focus will be people at high risk of becoming infected or severely ill from COVID-19.”

The state’s initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are earmarked for frontline healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Next, the state plans to vaccinate essential workers — an expansive category of potentially 12 million people.

According to a correctional source familiar with the distribution process, prison medical facilities have received 18,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 3,259 of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine thus far. California’s first allocation of Pfizer BioNTech totaled about 327,000 doses. The governor has said he expects to get an additional 393,000 doses of that vaccine and 672,000 doses of the Moderna one in the near future.

More than 10,000 inmates are listed as infected out of the roughly 91,000 incarcerated. More than 34,000 have tested positive since March and 112 inmates have died, according to the CDCR data. Some 3,366 employees are infected with more than 10,000 sickened this year.

The California State Prison in Lancaster has the highest case load, with 938 inmates and 225 staff testing positive.

Robert Davis, who leads the correctional union there, said officers are still guarding inmates with severe COVID-19 symptoms inside the same hospital rooms. The rules, he said, require a guard in the room. Davis said the union has been informed that all employees who want the vaccine will receive a dose by the end of January.

The CDCR is also cracking down on testing for staff as the virus has surged throughout the state. As of Monday, any employee who refuses to undergo mandatory COVID-19 testing will be sent home without pay. In addition, an employee who refuses testing will be subject to formal discipline.