COVID vaccination underway for select Tulare, Kings County inmates

Tulare Sheriff Mike Boudreaux says in the long term, vaccinating inmates could have an impact on public safety.
TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- The vaccination process is underway for over 100 senior and high-risk Tulare and Kings County inmates.

The two Central Valley counties are joined by just a few other California county jails that have begun to vaccinate.

"Our inmates who have medical conditions and or are over the age of 65 or in long-term sentencing," said Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux. "Those are the ones at a higher level of risk."

Originally California health officials deemed inmates would fall into Phase 1B of the state's vaccine tiers. But after the state changed up its vaccine eligibility phases in late January, inmates were left in limbo.

The Madera County Sheriff's Office says it has no say over when the county's state-run jail will begin vaccinating inmates. Both Merced and Fresno Counties say there's no date set yet to start vaccinating inside jails.

In Kings County, out of a total of 490 inmates, 18 who are high risk or over the age of 65 have been vaccinated. In Tulare County, 344 inmates who are over 65 or high-risk were offered the vaccine. It was administered to 103 of those inmates.

"And so we really went on an effort to educate the inmate as to the vaccine," said Boudreaux. "We provided reading material as well as video material to the inmate."

The vaccine priority of those in jail and prison has been brought into question as counties struggle to secure supply seniors and frontline workers in the general public.

Tulare Sheriff Mike Boudreaux says in the long term, vaccinating inmates could have an impact on public safety.

He says reducing risk inside his jail could eventually mean he won't have to release as many inmates due to the zero-dollar bail policy, which is intended to create more space for social distancing.

"If we can begin to impact those who would reduce the levels of exposure, the grander picture would be that the zero-dollar bail would slowly lose its course," he said.

At the state level, only a small number of California prisons have started vaccinating senior or high-risk inmates.

Michelle Tran's husband is incarcerated at Avenal State Prison, where she says he looks forward to eventually having the option of being vaccinated.

"We can shut our doors, we can social distance, but you cannot social distance within that system," she said.
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