In Georgia, Mississippi and Pennsylvania, prisoners are receiving cookies and commissioner credit as incentives to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the Associated Press, prisoners in Mississippi were offered a “Cookies Famous Amos” package as an incentive to be vaccinated against the virus. Likewise, 51-year-old Michael McCoy, an inmate at the Autry State Prison in Georgia, told the Associated Press that they were offered a “guard package” that includes items like cookies, chips and candy, if they received a COVID -19 vaccine.
“Instead of confidently and confidently, are you going to bribe them with cookies and chips?” McCoy said according to the Associated Press. “What does he think we are?”
Inmates in Pennsylvania also received a commissioner credit, which is used to purchase items in prison, as an incentive to receive the vaccine.
The incentives offered to prisoners occur at a time when several states are experiencing low vaccination rates among prisoners. According to the Associated Press, as of March 30, approximately 700 prisoners in Georgia had been vaccinated, which reflects only about 1.5% of the state’s prison population.
For more reports from the Associated Press, see below.
This week, Florida expanded eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to all residents age 16 and older. But across the state, more than 70,000 people still lack access to the vaccine. These men and women are prisoners of the state of Florida.
More than half of the country has opened up eligibility for vaccines, greatly expanding the ability of most Americans to get vaccines, regardless of their age or medical conditions. But inside prisons the story is different: prisoners, who are not free to get vaccines, still do not have access in general.
Across the country, less than 20% of state and federal prisoners have been vaccinated, according to data collected by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press. In some states, prisoners and defenders resorted to lawsuits to gain access. And even when they are eligible, they do not receive important vaccine education.
And it’s not just the prisoners. Public health experts widely agree that people who live and work in correctional facilities face an increased risk of contracting and dying from the coronavirus. Since the pandemic first hit prisons in March 2020, about 3 out of 10 prisoners have tested positive and 2,500 have died. Prisons are often overcrowded, with limited access to health care and protective equipment, and inmates are more likely to have pre-existing medical problems.
“This is a public health strategy,” said Jaimie Meyer, an associate professor of medicine and public health at Yale University. “If you want to see an end to the pandemic, you have to vaccinate people in the places where there are the largest clusters and most cases.”
Penitentiary officials in Maine said they had just started vaccinating “age-eligible residents”, with 125 prisoners, about 7% of the prison population, immunized in late March.
In Tennessee, prisoners had to wait months before they started receiving the life-saving dose, after an influential state advisory group determined that inoculating them too early could result in a “public relations nightmare” and “many investigations by the state.” media”. That decision came though some of the largest coronavirus clusters in the United States were inside Tennessee prisons, with hundreds of cases active in various facilities.
Tennessee’s top health officials announced in March that some members of the prison population could receive the vaccine if they were qualified by age or had certain health conditions.
To date, about a third of Tennessee’s prisoners have tested positive for the virus since the outbreak began to spread. More than 40 died.
On April 5, more than 6,900 prisoners – of about 19,400 in the state – received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As of Monday, Tennessee began allowing all residents age 16 and older to receive the vaccine, meaning that the remaining state prisoners would be eligible.
In some states, prisoners and defenders have resorted to lawsuits to speed up the pace of vaccinations. In February, a federal judge ordered Oregon officials to offer the vaccine to all state prisoners, which the state claims to have already done. Washington state prisoners filed a similar lawsuit in late March, requiring additional protection from correctional staff who refused the vaccine. Last week, a New York Supreme Court justice determined that that state should vaccinate all people imprisoned in prisons and jails.
Texas vaccinated its first 600 prisoners just because of an accident. After a problem with the freezer at the Darrington Unit left hundreds of uncooled doses for correctional officers, officers offered the vaccine first to officials and then to high-risk prisoners to prevent doses being missed.
The availability of the vaccine is not the only factor with which prison authorities must struggle to obtain shots. Carrie Shipp, whose 21-year-old son, Matthew, is incarcerated at the Ruben M. Torres Unit in Texas, said his son decided not to get vaccinated out of fear and distrust of the prison medical staff. Shipp’s son encouraged her and her daughter to be vaccinated, but he doesn’t want to be vaccinated.
“It’s not like he doesn’t believe in science, he’s just afraid of what they can do with him, what they can give him,” said Shipp. “Having your child, someone you cared for, is afraid of something that would protect you … I’m going to lose sleep over it.”
On the other hand, the four states that say they have offered the vaccine to all adults in their state prisons – Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia – have seen more prisoners apply it, on average about 70%. Meyer said this is a positive sign, but it is likely to be less in many other states.
“In many prisons … the annual absorption of a flu vaccine is about 30%,” said Meyer. “Now that you add that it is a newly developed technology about which people may or may not have a lot of information, it must be anticipated that absorption can be as low as 30%.”