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Health

North Carolina Prisons Get First Wave Of COVID-19 Vaccine Doses

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RALEIGH — North Carolina's Department of Public Safety announced on Wednesday it has received about 1,000 doses of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine for inmates and prison staff.

“The staff have worked so hard for so long with hope and prayer for a better day down the road,” said a statement from Todd Ishee, the state's commissioner of prisons. “Now the vaccine is arriving at our prisons, and we can see a way to a future without this awful virus controlling so much of our lives. This is an important step.”

An additional 300 doses allocated for the prison system are expected to arrive this week.

Some staff members have already been vaccinated through local health departments. The limited supply of 1,000 doses will go to prison health care staff administering the vaccine, staff working with infected inmates or in housing units where offenders have tested positive for the virus and inmates 75 years or older.

Prison officials said inmates between the ages of 65 and 74 will be vaccinated next, based on the available supply of doses. Four prisons are serving as regional delivery hubs for distribution.

Members of North Carolina's National Guard will work at least through Friday at Central Prison in Raleigh to vaccinate local staff members.

Ishee has expressed concern about vaccine hesitancy among some staff members and inmates. Vaccination is currently voluntary for the roughly 14,000 workers and 29,000 inmates in the state's prison system. Top prison officials have discussed the possibility of making the vaccine mandatory in the future or offering incentives, such as additional visitations, to offenders who take the vaccine.

There are 465 active COVID-19 cases among inmates, according to the Department of Public Safety's COVID dashboard. Fourteen offenders are currently hospitalized. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 8,300 inmates have tested positive and nearly 7,000 are presumed to have recovered.

The state on Wednesday reported more than 690,000 people have become infected with COVID-19 in North Carolina during the pandemic. At least 8,200 people have died.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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Follow Anderson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BryanRAnderson.

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Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.