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Posted on: August 5, 2021

Mayor Lee Harris' Update on Shelby County's Inmate Vaccine Success

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As the Delta variant continues to surge, we continue our outreach to everyone in Shelby County to remind them of the importance of getting the vaccine to help stem the tide of this deadly pandemic. Our latest effort includes a prison education program at the Shelby County Corrections Division facility.

What is often called the “Three C’s"–crowded places, close contact, and confined spaces–increases the chance of getting or giving the disease. When you have all three, as you often do in prison settings, the risk of catching COVID goes up dramatically. 

According to the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, the rate of infection in prisons is 5.5 times higher than in the general population. Additionally, an average of 40% of prisoners have chronic medical conditions, like hypertension and diabetes, which makes them more vulnerable to worse COVID-19 outcomes. This is why it is so important that we educate and empower this population on the benefits of the vaccine.

To launch this initiative, Dr. Bruce Randolph, health officer with the Shelby County Health Department, and members of my staff, worked to record an informational video directed specifically towards the inmates. It included questions from unvaccinated inmates and answers from Dr. Randolph. Also, several inmates who have already been vaccinated described their experiences and reasons for taking the vaccine. 

The team then organized four in-person town halls, where we showed the video and Dr. Randolph was present to answer follow-up questions. We provided flyers with facts on the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness to be shared with the entire population in the corrections facility. 

Dr. Randolph Prison Education Program

We are excited to announce that after these efforts, nearly 200 prisoners signed up to receive the vaccine, pushing the total population of incarcerated individuals vaccinated at the Division of Corrections facility to well over 50%.

Special thanks to the Memphis Fire Department, which delivered and administered the shots, as well as Corrections Division Director Anthony Alexander and his staff, who helped coordinate this massive vaccine education program.

In the future, we hope to replicate this program and its success in other facilities. We know that most of these prisoners will eventually be released. But in the meantime they do not live on an island. Nurses, guards, counselors, and others go in and out of the facilities every day. Getting this population vaccinated helps protect our community as a whole. 


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