Texas prisoners started getting vaccinated in February — months after many became eligible

Telford prison in New Boston. Almost 2,000 coronavirus vaccine doses have gone to qualifying Texas prisoners as of Thursday. Credit: Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune

Texas prisoners over the age of 65 and with health conditions started receiving vaccinations in late February, months after many of them were eligible, according to a statement Thursday from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Almost 2,000 vaccine doses have gone to qualifying prisoners as of Thursday, according to the statement. TDCJ did not provide information on the split between first and second doses or how many prisoners have received shots.

The first several hundred of these vaccinations went to prisoners after a freezer failure forced officials to distribute remaining Moderna vaccines within a few hours.

“Those doses began to thaw and had only a few hours before they would not have been usable,” said Jeremy Desel, spokesperson for the department. “(The department) gathered all the staff it could in nearby locations, administered the vaccines, and then moved on to prisoners in the Phase 1B category. No vaccines were wasted.”

Earlier this year, the Texas prison system refused to provide information on when its vulnerable populations would start being immunized, despite receiving thousands of doses. Up until late February, staff and employees received all of these vaccinations. So far, almost 11,000 first-dose vaccinations and 7,000 second doses were allocated to staff and employees.

Outbreaks have consistently occurred across the state’s 99 prison units since the pandemic first started, and more than 240 state prisoners have died after contracting the coronavirus, according to prison death reports analyzed by the Texas Justice Initiative.

Texas announced that all adults would be eligible for the vaccine starting next Monday. Around 6 million Texans have received their first dose so far. Only 3 million were fully vaccinated as of March 22. That’s about 11.1% of Texas’ 29 million people.

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