Most New Hampshire prisons and jails are taking steps to deliver the coronavirus vaccine to inmates who meet the state’s Phase 1B requirements, officials said Tuesday.
The state Department of Corrections is waiting for doses of the vaccine and expects to begin vaccinating inmates at its three prison facilities soon, said Tina Thurber, a spokeswoman for the department.
She said 162 inmates who are 65 or older meet the age qualification. Another 134 have two or more medical conditions that make them eligible for the vaccine.
“We are hoping to start this week,” she wrote in an email.
This winter, New Hampshire jails and prisons started landing on the lists of long-term care facilities struggling with COVID-19.
Last week, state officials reported 245 cases among inmates at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men and 71 cases among staff. One person died, but officials did not say whether it was an inmate or staff.
Active cases amounted to 19 among inmates and three among staff, according to the Department of Corrections. It disclosed two inmate deaths.
Prison medical staff will begin injecting the vaccine once it’s available from the state Department of Health and Human Services, Thurber said. It should take about four weeks for all eligible inmates who want the vaccine to be inoculated, she said.
Jake Leon, a spokesman for DHHS, said the most at-risk of the Department of Corrections health-care staff were vaccinated under Phase 1A.
Meanwhile, county jails are addressing opportunities for vaccinations at a different pace.
At Merrimack County jail, 17 inmates who are eligible have elected to get the vaccine and will receive it Friday, said Superintendent Ross Cunningham. Fifty staff are also expected to get their initial shot on Friday.
The Capital Area Public Health Network will handle the distribution, he said.
Cunningham said the jail started the evaluation process last week, once it received notification that Phase 1B was about to start.
The head nurse began surveying inmates, and those who had health conditions were screened by the jail’s contract physician provider to ensure they met the Phase 1B criteria.
“I am a different administrator. I choose to be aggressive,” Cunningham said.
Last week, officials reported 36 inmates and 15 staff with COVID-19 at the Merrimack County jail, but he said that number is down to zero.
At Valley Street jail in Hillsborough County, Superintendent Willie Scurry said Monday that no plans are in place to vaccinate inmates but he will speak to the jail’s outside medical providers this week. He said he only recently received notice about the availability of vaccines.
“That’s on the agenda,” he said.
Scurry has not made special arrangements for staff. He said they may sign up for vaccines online or by calling 211 to receive a shot at one of the state’s vaccination sites.
Last week, the state reported 109 cases among inmates and 39 among staff at Valley Street jail. On Monday, Scurry said that number was down to no active cases among inmates and one case among staff.
Strafford County jail also experienced an outbreak last week.
There, the nursing staff is identifying inmates eligible for the Phase 1B vaccination, said Superintendent Chris Brackett.
One inmate is 65 and eligible. The nursing staff is going through the medical records of the 297 inmates, concentrating first on those on their critical care list.
Once inmates are identified and consent to vaccinations, the distribution will begin. Brackett said he is in discussions with the Seacoast Public Health Network to have the jail’s medical staff do the injections.
“They’re looking for us to raise our hand and jump up and down and say, ‘We’ll do it, we’ll do it,’” Brackett said.
He has encouraged his staff to sign up for the vaccination, but federal health privacy laws prevent him from making it mandatory, he said. Brackett said his outbreak is down to 13 active cases and he has one staff person out.
The Centers for Disease Control lists 10 medical conditions that put one at risk for COVID-19. A combination of two or more makes anyone eligible for the vaccine during Phase 1B.
They are cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, heart conditions, Down syndrome, immunocompromised status, obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell anemia and Type-2 diabetes.