BILLINGS (AP) — The Montana Department of Corrections has reported about half of the people in custody are choosing not to get vaccinated for COVID-19, despite being held in communal living situations that increase the risk of infection.
Department spokesperson Alexandria Klapmeier said there is a 50 percent vaccination refusal rate among inmates across the state. So far, 1,405 inmates in state prisons have been fully vaccinated.
The Montana State Prison has vaccinated 51 percent of its facility population, or 820 of 1,453 people, officials said. The Montana Women’s Prison vaccinated 49 percent of its facility population, or 102 of 206 people. Some locations are doing better than others, with the Great Falls Regional Prison reporting that it vaccinated more inmates than it currently has in custody.
“The DOC continues to provide information to inmates about the benefits of vaccination and offer vaccine to inmates who have declined previously,” Klapmeier said. She noted that everyone booked into department-run facilities is offered COVID-19 vaccine, but not everyone accepts the offer.
Officials said the state’s two largest jails — Yellowstone County jail and Missoula County jail — are seeing lower rates of vaccination. Yellowstone County jail reported 108 inmates are inoculated, about one-fifth of the current jail population. Missoula County jail, which also is home to the Missoula Assessment and Sanction Center, reported 97 of 312 inmates in its facility are vaccinated.
The figures do not indicate an exact percentage of vaccinated inmates, because new people are booked and released daily, officials said.
“The risk of transmission is higher indoors, in large groups and with people close together for more than 15 minutes at a time,” said Pat Zellar, spokesperson for RiverStone Health, Yellowstone County’s public health department. “All those risk factors are present in the jail population. That’s why the CDC still recommends that everyone wear masks in correctional facilities, even if they are fully immunized.”
Across Montana, 42 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated. Nationally, that number is 47 percent.
The common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, breathing trouble, sore throat, muscle pain and a loss of taste or smell. Most people develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia. Sometimes people with a coronavirus infection display no symptoms.