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. Additionally, all individuals age 12+ are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States. Despite this, few systems are reporting vaccination data and the majority of systems reporting data have vaccinated their incarcerated population at a lower rate than the general population.
As of May 14, 2021, 27 states (AK, AL, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, GA, ID, KS, MA, MD, ME, MN, MO, NC, ND, NH, NJ, PA, SC, TN, UT, VA, WA, WI, WV) have reported vaccination numbers for their incarcerated population. In the past week, ND, SC, and PA have begun reporting vaccination numbers for their incarcerated population. Among states reporting data, 50% of the general population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 57% 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 27% in SC to 80% in ME. In 10 of the states reporting data (AL, CT, MA, MD, MN, MO, NH, NJ, SC, WA) the vaccination rate in the general population exceeds that of the prison population. SC has vaccinated its incarcerated population at around 70% rate of its general population. In NH, MA, UT, and WA the vaccination rates are similar between the general and prison populations. AK, CA, CO, DE, GA, ID, KS, ME, NC, ND, PA, TN, UT, VA, WI, and WV have vaccinated their incarcerated populations at a higher rate than the 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. 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.
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, some were denied any COVID-19 vaccine during the Johnson & Johnson pause, others were given expired COVID-19 vaccines, and there are reports of incarcerated persons not receiving incentives they were promised for taking the vaccine (e.g., free phone calls).
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 May 21st. 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. We have removed data on AZ, as state reports now combine first and second doses received, resulting in a number of vaccinations larger than the incarcerated population. The COVID Prison Project also analyzes media reports to track vaccination plans for states that are not reporting public vaccination counts.