There have been many continued calls to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations among incarcerated populations given their high and disproportionate risk of COVID-19 infection and death. Despite this, few systems are reporting vaccination data and the majority of systems reporting data have vaccinated their incarcerated population at a far lower rate than the general population. Additionally, the recent pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has led to some prison systems pausing vaccinations entirely.
As of April 15, 2021, 15 states (AK, AL, CA, CO, CT, DE, ID, MA, MD, NC, NH, TN, VA, WI) had reported vaccination numbers for their incarcerated population. Alabama began reporting vaccination numbers since our last post. The rate that has received at least one vaccine in prisons ranges from 6,666 per 100,000 (7%) in AL to 72,437 per 100,000 (72%) in CO. In five of the states reporting data (AL, ID, MD, NH, WI) the vaccination rate in the general population exceeds that of the prison population. AL and WI have vaccinated their incarcerated population at less than 0.20 times the rate of their general population. Similarly, ID and NH have vaccinated their incarcerated population at around 0.40 times the rate of the general population and MD at around half the rate of the general population. In NC and MN, the vaccination rates are the same between the general and prison populations with NC having vaccinated 35% and MN having vaccinated 41% of both populations. However, AK, CT, CA, CO, DE, TN, MA, and VA have vaccinated their incarcerated populations at a higher rate than the general population with CO having vaccinated their incarcerated population at 1.80 times the rate of their general population. CO has vaccinated 72% of its incarcerated population and 40% of its general population.
We report the share of the total population that has received at least one vaccine dose. While an important public health metric, this does not equal the share that are fully vaccinated if the vaccine requires two doses. As states vary in the type of vaccines administered in prisons, the rate of the incarcerated population that is fully vaccinated varies across states. It is also possible that states’ rate of full vaccination varies between their general and incarcerated populations.
Another important aspect of vaccinations is the prioritization of vaccinations in prisons, which varies widely by state. Eleven states reporting vaccination data (AK, AL, CA, CT, DE, MA, MD, MN, NC, VA, WI) now prioritize incarcerated populations in Phase 1 whereas the remaining states either have not include incarcerated populations in their vaccination plans or have included them at the lowest priority.
Lastly, vaccine hesitancy and the speed of vaccination distribution within carceral settings deserve attention. Staff members in prisons have reported high vaccine hesitancy. Additionally, structural racism and the historically unethical treatment of incarcerated persons by our nation’s public health and medical systems contribute to vaccine hesitancy among incarcerated individuals.
All data reported here comes from official dashboards reported by Departments of Correction. All data was pulled from state dashboards on April 15th except for Idaho, which was most recently pulled from the state dashboard on April 14th. Since our last post, in addition to updating the number of incarcerated individuals that have received vaccinations, we have updated our prison population counts for all states, which affects the rates and percentages of vaccination. Moving forward, we will use updated population data published by state systems. We do not publish data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons here as 1) it is unclear if they are reporting the population that is fully vaccinated as opposed to having received at least one dose 2) there is no relevant general population to compare this population to and 3) further inconsistencies have shown this to be a datasource of uncertain reliability. The COVID Prison Project also analyzes media reports to track vaccination plans for states that are not reporting public vaccination counts.