KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When it comes to administering the COVID-19 vaccine to jail and prison inmates in Kansas and Missouri, it’s a tale of two states with vastly different policies.
“Actually, Missouri is the only state that explicitly put incarcerated people in phase 3, the lowest phase,” said Dr. Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein with the COVID Prison Project.
In Kansas, prison inmates are among the second wave of people vaccinated. Gov. Laura Kelly argues, like nursing homes, prisons are congregate settings where the virus can spread rapidly.
The stark contrast between Kansas and Missouri became increasingly evident in recent days after Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt openly complained about the Sunflower State’s approach in a Facebook post.
“So after front-line workers (including prison employees) and nursing home residents (and employees) are offered the vaccine, Kansas should save lives by putting older folks (wherever they live) ahead of younger inmates,” Schmidt posted to his official Facebook account on Sunday. “I think Kansas seniors, many of whom have been largely trapped in their homes since March, should have priority over prisoners.”
Dr. Brinkley-Rubinstein, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill with a doctorate from Vanderbilt University, believes the Kansas approach represents the best science to flatten the curve. She argues people need to remember prisons are very much a part of the fabric of the community where they exist.
“We have staff who live in the community, who go to work every single day in a prison or jail, who may get exposure to COVID-19 in those settings and bring it back to their home communities,” Brinkley-Rubinstein said.