21:41 GMT17 April 2021
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    WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - More than half of the guards and other employees working in US federal prisons have declined to be vaccinated for the novel coronavirus despite the inoculations being offered to everyone, US Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Michael Carvajal said during a congressional hearing on Thursday.

    "Everyone in the Bureau of Prison, employee-wise has had the opportunity, been offered the vaccine, and approximately 49 percent have accepted it," Carvajal said in testimony to the US House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science.

    When asked why the vaccination percentage was so low, Carvajal replied: "I wish I could answer that, but I certainly can’t force it [the vaccine] on anyone."

    US Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger cited a recent report from Johns Hopkins University saying that coronavirus cases are often detected among staff before prisoners.

    "Compared to the rest of the US population, cases in prisons are 3.2 times more prevalent among prison staff and 4.6 times more prevalent among prison residents, who then die from COVID 19 at a three times higher rate than the same age population," Ruppersberger said, citing the Johns Hopkins report.

    Carvajal replied that he and his staff continue to encourage everyone to be vaccinated but that legally they can not force prison employees to take the jab.

    Ruppersberger responded: "There’s got to be a way to change that number because if the guards aren’t being protected then the inmates aren't being protected."

    There are 125,371 federal inmates in Bureau of Prisons-managed institutions and 13,700 in community-based facilities. The BOP said that it employs 36,000 people, of whom 1,374 have tested positive for the coronavirus.

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