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 halt of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine reportedly led to some prison systems stopping vaccinations entirely. Over the weekend, multiple prison systems announced that they will resume administrating the Johnson & Johnson vaccine now that the United States regulatory agencies have lifted its pause.
As of April 23, 2021, 19 states (AK, AL, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, ID, MA, MD, MN, MO, NC, NH, TN, VA, WA, WI, WV) have reported vaccination numbers for their incarcerated population. In the past week, AZ, WA, and WV have begun reporting vaccination numbers for their incarcerated populations. The rate that has received at least one vaccine in prisons ranges from 4,969 per 100,000 (5%) in MN to 73,712 per 100,000 (74%) in CO. In 11 of the states reporting data (AL, CT, ID, MD, MN, MO, NC, NH, WA, WI, WV) the vaccination rate in the general population exceeds that of the prison population. MN has vaccinated its incarcerated population at one-tenth the rate of its general population. AL, MO, NH, and WI have vaccinated their incarcerated populations at less than half the rate of the general population. In ID and CT, the vaccination rates are similar between the general and prison populations. However, AK, AZ, 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 1.67 times the rate of their general population. CO has vaccinated 74% of its incarcerated population and 44% 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. Twelve states reporting vaccination data (AK, AL, CA, CT, DE, MA, MD, MN, NC, VA, WA, WI) have prioritized incarcerated populations in Phase 1 and AZ prioritized medically vulnerable incarcerated persons in Phase 1.
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 incarcerated individuals being wary of the vaccine. This concern has increased as some incarcerated individuals have been given overdose amounts of the vaccine by staff and others have been denied any COVID-19 vaccine during the Johnson & Johnson pause.
All data reported here comes from official dashboards reported by Departments of Correction. All data was pulled from state dashboards on April 23rd. We do not publish data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons here as it is unclear if they are reporting the population that is fully vaccinated as opposed to having received at least one dose. Additionally, there is no relevant general population to compare the Federal Bureau of Prisons to. The COVID Prison Project also analyzes media reports to track vaccination plans for states that are not reporting public vaccination counts.