About 80% of inmates at the Danville City Jail are still unprotected from the novel coronavirus after only 45 were vaccinated last week.
Jail officials worked with the Virginia Department of Health get the first dose of the Moderna vaccine for the inmates Wednesday, said Danville Sheriff Mike Mondul. Roughly 20% of the jail’s more than 200 inmates received the shots.
“I would like to see as many inmates as possible who want the vaccine get it,” Mondul said Monday. “We are encouraging them to get it without ‘pushing’ it on them. It is an individual medical choice.”
Mondul said he didn’t know why so many opted against getting vaccinated. Initially, 53 inmates indicated they wanted to receive a COVID-19 shot, but eight refused the day the vaccines were administered.
Mondul did not know how many staff members have received the vaccine, “but many have gotten it,” he said. Mondul himself got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine nearly two weeks ago.
Last fall, COVID-19 infected 100 people at the jail and hospitalized four. In early October, 87 inmates and 13 staff members at the jail tested positive for the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The outbreak began Sept. 28, when an inmate showed signs of COVID-19, which was confirmed two days later by a test. That number grew quickly to 50, and jail-wide testing got underway soon thereafter.
There has been no outbreak at the jail since the latter part of October.
The vaccination rate at the jail in Danville is much lower than that for inmates in facilities run by the state.
As for inmates across the state under the Virginia Department of Corrections, roughly 70% have received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine, department spokesperson Lisa Kinney told the Danville Register & Bee.
According to the Virginia Department of Corrections website, there have been 16,684 inmate vaccinations so far and 6,336 staff vaccinations as of 5 p.m. Friday.
Department of corrections vaccination numbers are updated at the end of the workday every Friday.
The department’s average daily inmate population was 23,811 at the end of January, Kinney said.
“Our medical staff have done a tremendous job getting shots into arms as we’ve received the vaccine from the Virginia Department of Health,” Kinney said.
Kinney noted, however, that the state is not involved in vaccinations for local jails. However, the Danville jail must meet department of corrections standards and is audited periodically to make sure it is in compliance, Mondul said.
A global consulting firm has been helping the department of corrections on its strategy for deploying vaccines, in collaboration with the health department, Kinney said.
“Our medical leadership has also been having a weekly consultation with members of the University of Virginia’s infectious disease team regarding vaccine rollout,” Kinney said.
The department of corrections will continue to offer the vaccine to inmates and staff who have declined it, she said.
“Our vaccine education program is ongoing,” she said. “We’re airing interviews with medical staff and others, distributing information from the CDC, running an inmate hotline, hanging informational posters, holding dialogue sessions to discuss the vaccine, etc.”
There are six cases of COVID-19 among inmates across the state correctional system.