NY unveils new vaccination incentive program for inmates

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ALBANY — You want fries with that shot?

The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision is rolling out a new vaccination incentive program to boost inmates’ COVID-19 inoculation rate, targeting the stomachs of the unvaccinated with rewards such as McDonald’s meals, pizza pies and even a “special” Christmas roast beef dinner, The Post has learned.

“To further encourage more acceptance of the vaccine, the department will offer another incentive program for all those presently unvaccinated individuals, who get partially or fully vaccinated by Dec. 8, 2021,” DOCCS Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci wrote Wednesday in a memo obtained by The Post, to the 31,753 incarcerated individuals housed in state facilities.

As of Monday, 15,851 individuals, or just 49.9 percent of the total population, have received at one shot.

“This incentive program will include a pared down menu, such as pizza or McDonald’s, from a local vendor in your area, but must also include a non-pork item, which will be decided by the facility, after consulting with the incarcerated liaison committee,” the official wrote, noting there’s a $10 spending cap on meals per individual.

Anthony Annucci
The incentive program is “to further encourage more acceptance of the vaccine,” DOCCS Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci said.
Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Shutters

The competition starts today, Wednesday, Oct. 20 and runs through Dec. 8 — and if facilities successfully boost their total inoculation rate by at least ten percent or more within that time frame, they’ll be rewarded with a “special” Christmas roast beef dinner, “which in previous years was very popular,” Annucci wrote.

“Of course, for those facilities which are unable to increase their percentages by 10 percent or more, the Christmas meal will still be an enhanced enjoyable one, as required by the department’s holiday menu,” he added. 

Not everyone is lovin’ it.

State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association President Michael Powers blasted the move.

“For an administration that prides itself in equality, it’s demoralizing to see the disparity in the treatment of inmates and staff. Since the beginning of the pandemic, our employees have worked long overtime hours in violent and harsh working conditions and are now subjected to a confusing, complicated testing mandate on their own time,” he seethed.

“Meanwhile, the State is using valuable resources to bring taxpayer-funded Happy Meals into facilities to incentivize inmates to get vaccinated. Where’s the fairness in that? The State should treat everyone who resides inside the walls of the prison system equally and provide universal testing of staff, inmates, contractors and visitors at the facilities.”

Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available, according to DOCCS.

To gauge interest, the notice will be posted in all housing units and facility libraries for inmates to review.

Then after one week, facilities will be required to conduct a survey of the population ahead of scheduling vaccination clinics.

A medical staff member prepares a syringe with a vial of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.
The DOCCS has the Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines available for inmates.
AFP via Getty Images

The survey results will be due by Oct. 28 to DOCCS’ central office in Albany.

It’s the second vaccination program the agency has teased since July, when prison-wide barbeque cook-outs and conjugal visits were dangled in front of prisoners wary of getting the shot. 

The department reported then that around 45 percent of inmates had received at least one shot, but did not immediately respond to The Post Wednesday when asked for an updated figure.

Eighty six percent of New Yorkers ages 18 and up have at least received their first vaccine dose and 73 percent of all individuals eligible for the vaccine have received at least one shot, according to the latest data posted by the state Department of Health. 

As of Tuesday, 6,834 prisoners have been diagnosed with coronavirus — but of that figure 6,701 have recovered and are out of isolation — as well as an additional 5998 positive cases reported by correctional officers.

Another 35 incarcerated individuals and 13 staffers died of the virus since the pandemic began.

A DOCCS spokesman said so far there’s no price tag attached to the initiative, “as we don’t know how many new people will chose to be vaccinated in order to receive the incentive.”

As of Oct. 12, prison workers are required to either be vaccinated or submit to a weekly test-out option, along with other state workers.

However, since Sept. 27th all health care workers employed in hospitals and nursing homes have been subject to a vaccine mandate and if they refuse the shot or don’t have a valid medical exemption, their employers may fire them. 

There is also a pending lawsuit filed in federal court by medical workers challenging the requirement, seeking religious exemptions to the rule. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that he will extend the mandate to all 300,000 city employees. If unvaccinated, they must get their first jab by Oct. 29.

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