In Massachusetts, more than half the people employed by the Department of Correction declined to be immunised. A statewide survey in California showed that half of all correction employees will wait to be vaccinated. In Rhode Island, prison staff have refused the vaccine at higher rates than the incarcerated, according to medical director Dr Justin Berk. And in Iowa, early polling among employees showed a little more than half the staff said they’d get vaccinated.
Infection rates in prisons are more than three times as high as in the general public. Prison staff helped accelerate outbreaks by refusing to wear masks, downplaying people’s symptoms, and haphazardly enforcing physical distancing and hygiene protocols in confined, poorly ventilated spaces ripe for viral spread.
More than 106,000 prison employees in 29 systems, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons, have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to data compiled by the Marshall Project and AP since December. And some states are not tracking employees who get vaccinated in a community setting such as a clinic or pharmacy.
Still, some correctional officers are refusing the vaccine because they fear both short- and long-term side effects of the immunisations. Others have embraced conspiracy theories about the vaccine. Distrust of the prison administration and its handling of the virus has also discouraged officers from being immunised. In some instances, correctional officers said they would rather be fired than be vaccinated.
More than 388,000 incarcerated people and 105,000 staff members have contracted the coronavirus over the last year in the US. Nationwide, those infections proved fatal for 2,474 prisoners and at least 193 staff members.