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Virginia’s state-run jails offer inmates free phone credits, care packages in exchange for vaccine

Published: Jan. 21, 2021 at 6:49 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The Virginia Department of Corrections is encouraging inmates to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine, promising free email stamps, phone credits and care packages if they get it. Meanwhile, local and regional jails in southwest Virginia are awaiting further guidance from health officials.

The DOC released a statement Thursday in which the department explained it began phase 1-B vaccinations last week. VADOC medical staffers are administering the Moderna vaccine and plan to update their website on their progress every Friday. As of Friday, January 15, VADOC has inoculated about 1,177 staff and 648 of the nearly 25,000 inmates.

Earlier this month, Governor Ralph Northam encouraged health officials in Virginia to move quickly, saying at a press conference, “Empty those freezers, clear those shelves, deploy those doses. Show us shots in Virginians’ arms.”

Virginia also moved into phase 1-B of vaccine distribution. But even though incarcerated Virginians fall into that category, very few have had shots in arms.

“The 1-B opened up and that just looks like a floodgate,” said Lt. Colonel Stephen Turner with the Roanoke County Sheriff’s Office.

Turner said Roanoke County Fire and EMS contacted the Roanoke County Sheriff’s Office in early January, requesting a list of staff interested in getting a vaccine. A list was compiled. Those who signed up received an email with instructions on how to register for a vaccination through Vaccine Administration Management Systems, which allows registered users to enter a search radius for available vaccinations.

Turner says about 35 of their roughly 100 member teams opted for a vaccine. But there’s no word yet from health officials on when the county’s inmates might receive a vaccine.

“So right now, there’s more people than vaccines available,” he said. “...Without guidance from the Department of Health, we have to just wait.”

It’s the same for the Roanoke City Jail, which began vaccinating interested staffers a week ago.

At the Western Virginia Regional Jail, it’s a similar situation. According to Superintendent Colonel Bobby Russell, staff members have begun to get their vaccinations. Vaccines for inmates were supposed to come next week, but have now been delayed indefinitely.

Josh Salmon with the Blue Ridge Regional Jail told WDBJ7 Thursday they were in a similar situation. No vaccines for staff yet, apart from medical staff members, and no guidance yet on vaccine availability for their roughly 1,300 inmates and 400 staff members.

Superintendent Greg Winston at the New River Valley Regional Jail presented a similar situation. He said currently, about 80 of the jail’s 970 inmates are positive for the coronavirus. He said they have not kept track of the number of sick staff members. They too are awaiting guidance from local health officials on the vaccine roll-out.

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