Low vaccination rates among incarcerated youth, staff at juvenile facilities, leads to concern

By: - July 30, 2021 6:45 am
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Healthcare professional in protective gloves and workwear holding and organizing a tray of COVID-19 vaccine vials. The professional is carrying out research on COVID-19 vaccine in laboratory. (Getty Images)

Though everybody over age 12 is eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations, only 27% of Louisiana’s incarcerated youth have been inoculated against the deadly virus, an official with the Office of Juvenile Justice said Thursday, and only 36% of the staff at the state’s juvenile facilities have been.

“They have received all the information and we really have sent out a lot of information to the parents too,” Beth Touchet-Morgan, executive management adviser with OJJ,  said. “We’re trying to make sure the parents understand. We’ve called them.  We have case managers call the parents and try to answer any questions they may have.”

Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, a New Orleans based grassroots organization which works to improve the conditions for incarcerated youth, has also been working to convince more people who are locked up to get the shot.

“In terms of the vaccine, they have the opportunity to opt out, just like everyone else and the state cannot force that on them,” said LaToya Johnson, who runs the FFLIC’s vaccination campaign. “Now, just like we have to go to certain communities and certain areas of the city, and we have to do this education push about the vaccine, we also have to do that more so with our youth.”

“They don’t know. And so what that will look like is:  one, doing that education push about the vaccine and getting that to them in the prisons. But also two, it’s a lot of red tape, because they are youths.”

Johnson said she was making slow progress on her attempts to get inside the facilities and encourage young people there to accept the vaccine. Johnson, who is working with other organizations on these efforts, thinks the state could be doing more to encourage the vaccines.

But Touchet-Morgan said each facility has made information about the shot readily available and that there’s a medical provider at each location. Still, barely a third of staff members have been vaccinated, and barely above a fourth of the young people who are locked up.

During the most recent surge of COVID-19 cases, OJJ officials have imposed more stringent measures: including cleaning more frequently, restricting in-person visits and limiting the number of staff inside the buildings, Touchet-Morgan said. 

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

Rachel Mipro has previous experience at WBRZ and The Reveille and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Louisiana State University. At LSU, she worked as an opinion editor for The Reveille and as a nonfiction editor for the university’s creative writing journal. In her free time, she enjoys baking, Netflix and hiking.