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NC Mulls Incentives For Prison Inmates Who Get Vaccinated

Credit Charlie Riedel / AP

North Carolina prison officials are considering offering rewards to inmates who accept a coronavirus vaccine that will soon become available to them.

Todd Ishee, commissioner of prisons, said at a Thursday news conference that the Department of Public Safety is considering offering prisoners a greater number of guest visitations and other perks if they choose to get vaccinated.

“We try to identify privileges that offenders want, so we're gonna kind of anchor things around that,” Ishee said. "We've got a number of options, but we have not gotten that far into the decision-making process. But I think it's very likely that we will put together some type of incentive package to encourage higher levels of participation.”

State prison officials said nine inmates are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Across the state, nearly 4,000 residents are in the hospital with coronavirus symptoms.

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the state on Thursday reported a single-day increase of more than 10,000 cases. For the 11th consecutive day, the state has seen more than 13% of daily tests performed coming back positive.

At a time when all available metrics show the spread of the virus at its worst levels yet, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday extended a 10 p.m. curfew by three additional weeks to Jan. 29. However, he declined to take any new actions to limit transmission.

The governor said Thursday on Twitter that the high case count “paints a dark picture.”

“We’re at a critical point in our fight against this virus and all need to take responsibility for our own actions,” he wrote.

Across the state, demand for a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine among adults 75 years or older greatly outpaces supply.

Still, vaccine hesitancy remains high among nursing home workers. In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, the state's top public health official, Dr. Mandy Cohen, said most long-term care workers are refusing vaccinations.

“I caution it’s anecdotal, but we are definitely hearing that more than half (are) declining (the vaccine), and that is concerning,” Cohen said.

The North Carolina Health Care Facilities Association represents about 90% of skilled nursing care centers throughout North Carolina. The trade organization's president, Adam Sholar, said some workers don’t want to be among the first in the nation to receive the vaccine because it hasn’t been widely available.

He estimates vaccine acceptance among staff is around 40% to 50% but will pick up once they see the Moderna vaccine doesn’t pose significant health risks to their peers or to the considerable majority of nursing home residents who agreed to be vaccinated. Workers will have another chance to get vaccinated four weeks after CVS and Walgreen’s have administered the initial doses that began late last month.

“Those staff members not willing to take the vaccine the first time are seeing their colleagues take it and waiting for that more up close and personal observation of what it’s like for a known colleague,” Sholar said.

Ishee warned of a reluctance among some prison inmates to taking the vaccine. Still, he said others have long awaited the doses or have changed their mind in favor of getting vaccinated. He and other prison officials hope incentives will boost participation.

At this time, neither the state of North Carolina or corrections department mandate residents take the vaccine once it is available to them.

“We have not put in place any kinds of financial incentives or any mandating of the vaccine,” Cooper said at Wednesday's news conference. “We want to try to convince people that it’s safe, but there are a lot of people who want it and it’s very limited right now.”

Copyright 2021 North Carolina Public Radio

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