While jails and prisons have seen big outbreaks and a higher death rate than the general public, most states have done little for their incarcerated populations eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, reports Axios. Some 15 states are currently rolling out vaccine to inmates, according to February data from the Kaiser Family Foundation and another 15 states are allowing vaccination of staff, but not inmates. Around 28 percent of people incarcerated in state and federal prisons have tested positive for the virus, compared to about 9 percent of the total U.S. population, per KFF. In most states, the death rate among prisoners is higher than the overall COVID death rate. Over the course of the pandemic, prisons have seen roughly 380,000 cases and 2,500 deaths, according to The Marshall Project. Cases and deaths among staff likely are severely undercounted.
Meanwhile, Slate reports that while public health officials have urged states to prioritize prisons and jails because they have been the epicenters of outbreaks, limited vaccine supplies and public resistance to allowing prisoners early access to the vaccine threaten to undermine their efforts. So far, only nine states have included incarcerated people in phase 1 of the vaccine rollout. In addition, although a systemwide survey showed that roughly 21,000 of the 38,000 people incarcerated in the state were willing to get a COVID-19, and only 4,000 said they would not take the vaccine, many prisoners still doubt that a system that has historically shown such little regard for their well-being would suddenly offer them a potentially lifesaving vaccine. More than half of the respondents said they don’t believe the prison is acting in their best interest by making the vaccine available to prisoners. And few said they believe medical staff would provide accurate information about the vaccine. Nearly one-third of respondents said the vaccine is just another attempt to experiment on prisoners without their knowledge.