While we will continue to collect data on COVID-19 vaccinations within prison systems, this will be our final weekly blog post. There have been many calls to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations among incarcerated populations and the Delta variant has caused numerous recent outbreaks and deaths. Yet, many systems still do not report vaccination information and the percent of each state’s vaccinated incarcerated population are not substantially changing over time.
As of August 4, 2021, 30 states (AK, AL, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, GA, ID, KS, MA, MD, ME, MN, MO, NC, ND, NH, NJ, NM, OH, OR, PA, SC, TN, UT, VA, WA, WI, WV) have reported vaccination numbers for their incarcerated population. No additional states have begun reporting data recently. Among states reporting data, 59% of the general population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 67% of incarcerated populations have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. However, these percentages vary drastically by state. The percent of the population that has received at least one vaccine in prisons ranges from 44% in AL to 85% in MN. In 4 of the states reporting data (CT, MA, NH, WA) the vaccination rate in the general population exceeds that of the prison population while in the other states, the vaccination rate in the prisons exceeds that of the general population. However, in some states where the vaccination of incarcerated populations exceeds that of the general population, vaccination of both populations remains low. Since our last report, CA has administered the most vaccinations within its prison system. NH has seen the largest percentage increase in vaccinations. However, 15 states have not reporting any increase in vaccinations in the past week.
When available, 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. Exceptions include AZ, CO, ME, SC, and WV. These states only report the number of incarcerated individuals that have been fully vaccinated, meaning it is possible that there are partially vaccinated individuals in these state systems. It is also possible that people recently entering state prison systems were vaccinated before being incarcerated and that their vaccinations would not be captured in these data.
Another important aspect of vaccinations is the prioritization of vaccinations in prisons, which varies widely by state. However, as all adults are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States, vaccines should be available for all incarcerated persons despite their state’s prioritization of them.
As COVID-19 spreads particularly rapidly in congregate settings, it is crucial that all incarcerated persons are offered the COVID-19 vaccine. Critically, herd immunity is based on how contagious a disease is, making it likely that the relationship between COVID-19 vaccination rates and slowing case rates looks differently in carceral settings than in the general population with more incarcerated persons needing to be vaccinated to slow the spread. It is also important that these data are transparently reported on public systems. It is only through these data that we can comprehensively understand the progress of the COVID-19 pandemic and the role that vaccinations are playing within carceral settings.
All data reported here comes from official dashboards reported by Departments of Correction. All data was pulled from state dashboards on August 4th. We do not publish data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons here as there is no relevant general population to compare the Federal Bureau of Prisons to. We have removed ORs data due to a lack of updated information but we still state them in the summary as reporting vaccinations. The COVID Prison Project also analyzes media reports to track vaccination plans for states that are not reporting public vaccination counts.
We have recently updated our population denominator data using Vera’s 2021 data release. Unfortunately, without individual level data, we are unable to confirm if all 100% of those that have passed through these states’ Departments of Corrections have received COVID-19 vaccinations.