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GUARDED

Only four US states are providing data about inmate vaccinations

Three prisoners gathered in a common area in a California prison
REUTERS/Adam Tanner
No booster updates.
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter based in New York City

Published

Once again, the US is bracing for a surge in covid-19 cases, with the delta variant still circulating and the omicron one spreading fast. Cases are rising across the country, prompting some states and cities to impose measures such as mask and vaccine mandate.

Yet there continues to be a blind spot when it comes to the carceral system, which has been found to be a huge contributor to covid-19 outbreaks. Because of overcrowding and poor ventilation, inmates who circle in and out of the jail system, as well as prison workers, have been spreading covid-19 in the communities linked to correctional facilities. The detained population has been 55% more likely to contract covid-19, and as many as 13% of the cases of covid-19 in the broader population can be linked to prison outbreaks, affecting especially Black and Latino communities.

Despite public health specialists calling for vaccine mandates for correction facility personnel, as well as better information on the vaccination status of inmates, the vast majority of states share little data on the state of immunization in their jails and prisons. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged to get booster doses of vaccines, but just four states are sharing data about booster shots administered to inmates or correction workers.

There is no evidence of boosters in prisons in 40 states

According to the latest analysis by Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit advocating against mass incarceration, only Missouri, Delaware, Michigan and Minnesota are sharing information on the booster status of their inmates. In Missouri, only 7% of vaccinated inmates received a booster shot. In Delaware (pdf), 63% of inmates have received at least one dose of vaccine, and less than 30% have received a booster shot. In Minnesota, the percentage of prisoners with a booster ranges from none to almost 50%, depending on the facility. In Michigan, less than 10% of the prison population received a booster.

Information is even scarcer when it comes to information about prison personnel’s booster status, which is consistent with the lack of reliable data on covid-19 cases and vaccines among prison staff. Maryland is the only state sharing details about its correction employees, with about one in three vaccinated correctional workers having received a booster, too. About half the states don’t share any information on vaccine penetration among inmates, and data on prison employee vaccination is even less transparent.

Overall, there are only 10 states—including the aforementioned four—that have shared any information at all about booster program starting dates or how many doses have been administered to inmates. Another four states and the US Bureau of Prison have mentioned covid-19 booster campaigns in their public communications, but haven’t shared details on timeline or process.  This means in 40 states there is no evidence any boosters are being administered, either to inmates or correctional workers.

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