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Shelby County Division of Corrections outpaces national vaccine rates, reaches herd immunity

Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 5:29 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Inmates at the Shelby County Division of Corrections (SCDOC) are outpacing the general public in vaccinations rates.

Now, 70 percent of the county’s DOC population is inoculated against the virus.

Doctors say having about 70 percent of a population vaccinated is considered herd immunity.

Inmates are considered a vulnerable population for COVID-19, but all the inmates at SCDOC will eventually be released. Officials hope their vaccination status will help the community as a whole.

“We wanted to show them how important it was to become vaccinated,” said SCDOC Director Anthony Alexander. “[We told inmates] you’re going to go back home, some of you have parents who are ill, you have small children. So, protect them. Protect yourselves and protect them.”

While Shelby County has more than 50 percent of the community partially vaccinated, last week SCDOC officially reached herd immunity. The facility has more than 1,100 people.

“When you look at a vulnerable population, such as offenders who are incarcerated in a prison, to reach 70 percent, it’s a big event,” Alexander said.

Alexander said inmates are more vulnerable to a COVID 19 outbreak because of the inmates’ close quarters and limited mobility. Plus, staff go home every day and are in the community, increasing the chance the virus will be brought into the facility.

Since March 2020, Alexander said one inmate has died of COVID-19 at Shelby County Department of Corrections.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, incarcerated people are infected with COVID-19 five times greater than the nation’s overall rate.

Alexander said inmates encouraged each other to choose the vaccine.

“People are going to be skeptical of administrative officials saying hey, get the vaccine,” Alexander said. “So, when the person sitting next to you in that bunk gets the vaccine and you see they’re okay and there’s no serious side effects.”

Shelby County health officials created videos from offenders to answer their questions. Some incentives were offered, including Chick-fil-A sandwiches.

Health officials said the peer-to-peer motivation they saw at the DOC can help the overall population also reach herd immunity.

“When you go get that third dose, bring with you someone who needs the first or the second,” said Shelby County Health Officer Dr. Bruce Randolph.

Click here for more information about the vaccine and where you can get the shot locally.

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