About 40% of Kansas prison staff, 30% of inmates decline COVID shot

TOPEKA — About 40% of Kansas prison staff and about 30% of inmates have declined to be vaccinated for COVID-19 despite massive outbreaks at lockups that have infected thousands.

The Kansas Department of Corrections is in its sixth week of offering vaccinations to inmates and staff, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. It plans to continue operating vaccination clinics through mid-April, agency spokeswoman Carol Pitts said in an email.

“Close to 60% of staff who have been offered the vaccine to date have accepted, and close to 70% of residents offered the vaccine have accepted,” Pitts wrote.

The agency doesn’t require employees or inmates to explain their reasons for declining the vaccine.

Vaccinating inmates in the current phase, which also include those 65 and older and essential workers such as teachers, has been controversial. The Republican-controlled Legislature urged Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to postpone their inoculations so that others could get them first.

But Kelly said prisons needed to be prioritized because they had been hit hard and because outbreaks there could affect surrounding communities. As of Thursday, the prison system had reported 1,277 cases among staff and 6,117 among inmates since the start of the pandemic. There also had been 21 deaths among prisoners and staff.

Secretary of Corrections Jeff Zmuda previously declined to reveal the percentage of corrections employees who rejected the vaccine, telling the Capital-Journal in an email last month that it was a “personal choice.” But Pitts explained that the circumstances had changed.

“The choice to accept the vaccine is a personal healthcare decision every individual must make, ideally without additional pressure from external sources,” she said. “All staff have now had an opportunity to make their decision, and we are now sharing the data.”

Jail workers also are saying no. In Shawnee County, for instance, only about 34% of the corrections department’s employees have accepted the vaccine offer, said Maj. Tim Phelps, spokesman for that department.

Statewide, about 22.2% of Kansans had received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, health officials reported Friday.

COVID-19 cases have been dropping in Kansas. The state added just 606 new confirmed cases from Wednesday to Friday, raising its pandemic total to 299,510. The number of deaths increased by five, to 4,842.

With the numbers improving, the school board in Topeka decided to bring middle and high school students back to class five days a week starting April 1. They had been attending hybrid classes — at home part of the time and in-person the rest of the time.


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