MN Corrections Officers Hesitant To Get COVID Vaccine

After one of the worst COVID outbreaks in the country within its prisons, a recent statewide survey found that just half of Minnesota corrections officers want the vaccine, Liz Collin reports (2:06) WCCO 4 News At 5 - March 19, 2021

Video Transcript

- After one of the worst COVID outbreaks in the country in its prisons, there is growing concern many Minnesota corrections officers won't be vaccinated. A recent statewide survey found just half of them want the shot. As WCCO's Liz Collin found, in such confined spaces, there are fears what that resistance could mean for the future.

PAUL SCHNELL: Well it's been a really difficult time for us as an agency.

LIZ COLLIN: At one point in the pandemic, more than 80% of the incarcerated population at Stillwater had tested positive for COVID-19. Nearly 70% at Faribault. Just this week, another inmate died at that facility, bringing the inmate death toll statewide to 12.

PAUL SCHNELL: Died in his sleep, but we know that he was COVID positive.

LIZ COLLIN: WCCO obtained the results of an air quality report in December, showing dust build up on air ducts and water leaks at Stillwater, where all but one surface swab received a fail or caution rating. It's believed infection rates in prisons are three times as high as in the general public.

PAUL SCHNELL: There's really a heavy mix among staff.

LIZ COLLIN: And why the recent results of a survey showing half of prison staff would take the COVID vaccine is raising alarm. Still, Commissioner Paul Schnell says a large number of people have yet to respond.

But even so far, Commissioner, hearing the results of that survey, does that concern you?

PAUL SCHNELL: We're certainly concerned. We really want people to take the vaccine.

LIZ COLLIN: While full scale vaccinations to all staff have yet to be offered, Schnell says just like in the community, there is some distrust and worry about possible long term impacts. The DOC launched the Who's With Me campaign, with the hope these posters throughout the facilities will help build support.

In a statement, the union representing Minnesota corrections officers told WCCO that quote, "as a union, we will continue to work with our members and health officials to provide accurate and factual information and encourage all workers to receive their vaccine when offered one."

Liz Collin. WCCO 4 News.

- While taking the vaccine is optional and not a condition of employment, Commissioner Schnell told us it's possible staff who aren't vaccinated will have different PPE requirements, or will have to be assigned to work in different spaces.