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St. Louis NAACP files complaint on lack of prisoner vaccines

February 19, 2021 GMT

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis NAACP filed federal civil rights complaints against Missouri over the lack of coronavirus vaccinations for prisoners.

No Missouri prisoners had been vaccinated against the virus, a state corrections department spokeswoman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday.

The St. Louis NAACP filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division over the lack of vaccinations, the chapter president said in a Thursday news release.

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“While we are well aware that the CDC makes recommendations with respect to who should be offered COVID-19 vaccine first, and each state has its own plan for deciding who will be vaccinated first and how they can receive vaccines; that ‘Does Not’ exempt the State from long-standing civil rights nondiscrimination requirements when utilizing Federal assistance,” St. Louis NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt said in a statement, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said about 8,000 Missouri inmates, or roughly a third of the total imprisoned population, now qualify for the vaccine. Of those, 6,000 said they would like to be vaccinated.

Pojmann said 0.2% of Missouri prisoners currently have confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

In St. Louis jails, 65 inmates qualify to get the vaccine either because of their age or underlying health conditions. A spokesman for the St. Louis mayor told the newspaper that 22 of those inmates consented to be vaccinated Thursday.

Meanwhile, state and local officials said some restrictions can be eased now that cases of the virus are falling.

Statewide, 3,529 new coronavirus cases were reported in the seven days that ended Tuesday, or roughly 504 new cases per day. Another 27 deaths were attributed to the virus during that period, according to state health department data.

Dr. Randall Williams, who heads the Department of Health and Senior Services, told a panel of lawmakers Friday that from a public health perspective, K-12 students and teachers are safe to return to in-person learning.

Ultimately, it’s up to local school districts to decide whether to allow in-school instruction.

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Williams’ assurance that in-person learning is safe came a day after he told reporters that Missouri had no plans to move teachers higher on the list for COVID-19 vaccinations, despite their pleas for quicker access to the vaccine.

“There is no vaccine for children. So how do we protect them and the community?” said Ray Cummings, president of the St. Louis chapter of the American Federation of Teachers union. “The answer is we practice the protocols and vaccinate teachers and school support staff as quickly as reasonably possible.”

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas on Friday ended a midnight curfew for in-person dining at bars and restaurants. He also repealed limits on gathering sizes. Face masks and social distancing still are still required in the city.

Meanwhile on Friday, Adam Crumbliss, who heads the health department’s Division of Community and Public Health, took issue with several Missouri bills that would limit local health departments’ ability to close businesses for extended periods of time.

“We recognize that some of that legislation has very good intent and very good purpose,” Crumbliss said. “And then we also have concerns about how some of that legislation may impact the local municipality and its ability to do its services for citizens.”