Genesee County Jail inmates voluntarily receive COVID-19 vaccine

Authorities believe this may be one of the first jails nationwide to offer the vaccine for all inmates
Published: Mar. 16, 2021 at 5:10 PM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - Safe and Just Michigan says people in jail and prison are three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than an average person.

“Each person that has made this poor choice that put them here, shouldn’t be a choice that costs in their life,” explained Rick Speck, Community Engagement Specialist with Safe and Just Michigan.

Because inmates are in close quarters, it’s much easier for the virus to spread from person to person. Those are just two reasons why the Genesee County Jail made the COVID-19 vaccine available to every inmate on Tuesday.

The Genesee County Ambassadors, who were behind this effort, believe this might be the first county jail in the U.S. to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to every inmate.

“If you want to do it, that’s fine. If you don’t, that’s OK. But you have to do what’s best and have the option, that’s all we wanted to offer,” said Johnell Allen-Bay, a Genesee County ambassador.

Genesee County Sheriff’s Office staff, along with the county health department and community partners, went floor by floor to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to every inmate Tuesday. One-fifth of them took advantage of the opportunity, receiving the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine.

“They’re making sure there’s no dizziness, primarily that there’s no allergic reactions. That’s the biggest piece to it,” said Percy Glover, a Genesee County ambassador.

Allen-Bey and Glover say their focus throughout the last six months has been supporting the inmates and -- as they say it -- being their voice.

“You have people in here who are going through pretrial services, that has not been convicted of anything. So, in the most fair understanding, they need to receive and should receive every service as anybody in the community,” Glover said.

The inmates are also considered one of the most vulnerable populations. The Genesee County Jail was able to keep COVID-19 out of the facility for the first 9 months of the pandemic. At its worst point, Capt. Jason Gould said they had 36 inmates test positive for the illness.

It’s hard to socially distance them, especially with the jail almost at capacity with 579 inmates and space for 580 people. So he’s eager to see the impact the vaccine will make.

“We’ve got all these people that are waiting,” Gould said. “About 80% or 81% of the people here are waiting for a trial or their case to be moved forward, so it’s quite logjammed right now.”

Despite the vaccine availability, COVID-19 protocols continue inside the jail. Gould said any new inmate is still immediately placed in quarantine and monitored for symptoms. They will be offered the vaccine after 10 days behind bars.

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