(WJAR) — Rhode Island’s Adult Correctional Institution is approaching something the rest of the United States may not see for months: herd immunity. At least 70% of correctional officers who work inside the jail and prison have now been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Rhode Island Department of Corrections.
"I would like to have seen 100%. But you know what, 70% was a very good achievable goal for us,” said Richard Ferruccio, president of the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers.
Ferruccio said he’s worked in the prison during multiple riots and other emergencies, but the pandemic has been the most challenging time of his 37 years.
"Last year was the most physically and mentally stressful time in corrections that I've experienced,” he said.
Ferruccio is now fully vaccinated. But last year, he contracted COVID-19 inside the prison and unknowingly brought the virus home to his family. He and his loved ones have since recovered, but he lost a friend and coworker at the ACI to the virus. Lt. Russell Freeman, 52, died from COVID-19 in December.
"I think that was one of the reasons why we were so successful in helping push the [vaccination] numbers so high,” Ferruccio said of Freeman’s death.
Nationwide, some jails and prisons have reported officer vaccination rates as low as 30%.
In Bristol County, Massachusetts state numbers show about 43% of corrections officers at the Bristol County Jail and House of Correction have been vaccinated during clinics at work, although others may also have gotten the shot on their own.
"Some people want to wait and see, is there going to be a long-term impact on anybody? Once it gets a little further down the road, maybe feel more comfortable taking it,” Sheriff Thomas Hodgson told NBC 10.
Hodgson said a Bristol County officer recently suffered Bell’s Palsy as a side effect from the COVID-19 vaccine. One of his eyes was paralyzed for about a week before he recovered.
“The more these reports come out, the more it makes, I think, some people pause and hesitate,” Hodgson said
The Sheriff himself hasn’t been vaccinated yet, saying he would rather reserve his dose for officers who work inside the jail and prison every day.
“I likely will do it,” Hodgson said. “But I wanted to make sure everybody inside that have been working in the trenches get it first."