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Tama County Jail refusing to give inmates COVID-19 vaccine, citing staffing issues

Published: Aug. 11, 2021 at 10:34 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The Tama County Sheriff’s Office won’t give inmates COVID-19 vaccines.

Nearly 4,800 inmates in Iowa’s prisons have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic started. Cases have slowed significantly as vaccines rolled out with just 116 cases since March 1.

Dennis Kucera, who is a Republican and the Tama County Sheriff, chose to not speak on camera, with his office instead sending an emailed statement. It said that the jail has a lack of medical staff to administer vaccines.

“Lastly, we do not have medical staff on-site that could give the vaccine even if we did offer it,” Kucera said. “Therefore, we would have to take the inmates out of a secure and post quarantined environment to allow them to get the vaccine which is not in the best interest of the inmate’s health and security.”

The statement from the sheriff’s office also said inmates have very little risk of exposure to COVID-19 because inmates are quarantined before being placed into the general population. It also said jail staff has little direct contact with inmates.

There’s no overall tracking of cases in county jails in Iowa, but Iowa’s prisons became hot spots for COVID-19. Wanda Bertram, who is a spokesperson for a think-tank on incarceration called the Prison Policy Initiative, said COVID-19 spreads quickly in jails.

“Across the country, prisons and jails have case counts that are four times higher than the general population and deaths twice as high,” Bertram said.

Bertram also said it’s extremely uncommon for a jail or prison unable to get inmates vaccinated.

The Linn County Sheriff’s Office and the Dubuque County Sheriff’s Office allow inmates to get vaccinated. Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner, who is a Democrat, said he allows inmates to get vaccinated to keep people safe.

“We’re responsible for them, even the medical treatment,” Gardner said. “So part of that is to ensure that if they want the vaccine we have a way to give it to them.”

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