Since the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office rolled out an incentive program for inmates at the county jail to get vaccinated, around 500 have received a dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

As of Nov. 12, University Health and San Antonio-based Carvajal Pharmacy have administered 1,900 vaccines to inmates since June 9, 2021, a sheriff’s department spokeswoman said. Carvajal began providing the Moderna vaccine to the Bexar County Adult Detention Center in May.

More than 1,000 inmates signed up for a vaccine immediately after the sheriff’s office began offering $100 worth of commissary goods as an incentive to receive the coronavirus vaccine last month.

The attempt to vaccinate county jail inmates has continued to be a top priority for the sheriff’s office in order to prevent widespread coronavirus transmission inside the jail.

Though the sheriff’s office was able to push the population below 4,000 inmates at the beginning of 2021, that number began steadily ticking upward in April and hit a high of 4,651 inmates on Sept. 29. The actual capacity of the jail is 5,100, “but we’re maxed out for manpower,” Sheriff Javier Salazar said in October after county commissioners approved more than 82,000 hours in mandatory overtime pay for detention deputies.

Like the rest of Bexar County, the jail saw three spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases since last summer: one in July and August 2020, one in January 2021, and one in August 2021.

The San Antonio Report requested daily population counts and the number of COVID-19 cases in the Bexar County jail between July 21, 2020 and Nov. 3, 2021. A previous story from May 2020 showed data from before then.

The jail began its struggle with overpopulation at the beginning of the pandemic, when more incarcerated people inside the jail resulted in higher coronavirus spread. The sheriff's office attempted to stave off the increase with a coronavirus mitigation plan that included citing people for nonviolent offenses instead of taking them to jail, and working with the courts to release people with GPS trackers to lower the jail population. Those efforts helped keep the population below 4,000 inmates between October 2020 and May 2021.

The jail still requires all inmates and detention deputies to wear masks, Salazar said, and he hopes the vaccine incentive program for inmates will lead to higher vaccination rates among them. 

“It’s money well spent for us to be able to reinvest this — not just into the health of the inmates themselves, but in their families and in their communities as they reenter the community, they reenter the workforce,” he said in October. “We’re able to send them out in a healthier state being that they’ve been fully vaccinated.”

As far as employees go, the sheriff’s office is not sure how many of its workforce has been vaccinated against the coronavirus. Of the 1,578 total employees in the department, the agency has coordinated with University Health to give vaccines to 806 of them, Simpson said. The sheriff's office is not requiring its employees to be vaccinated, and self-reporting vaccination status is voluntary.

Bexar County commissioners approved an incentive program in August that gives up to $1,000 in health insurance rebates to county employees — including sheriff deputies and other employees at the agency — who get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“It’s difficult to tell you exactly how many employees have been vaccinated,” Simpson said in an email. “We did facilitate some of the vaccines with UHS, however, we do not have the number of those who actually showed up to their appointments. We also do not know if deputies went on their own to be vaccinated.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.