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Two Out of Three California Prison Inmates Said Yes to COVID Vaccine

FRIDAY, May 14, 2021 -- Sixty-seven percent of inmates in California prisons who were offered a COVID-19 vaccine have accepted at least one dose, a Stanford University study found.

"This is one of the largest state prison systems in the country, and if it can achieve high vaccination coverage among its incarcerated population, then the federal and other state prisons systems can and should do the same for the more than 2 million people that they currently incarcerate," said study co-author Jeremy Goldhaber-Fiebert, an associate professor of medicine.

The researchers also found that nearly 50% of those who initially turned down a COVID-19 vaccine accepted when it was offered again.

Lead study author Elizabeth Chin noted that prisons and jails are high-risk settings for COVID-19, and case and death rates far surpass those in the general population. Achieving and maintaining sufficient immunity to avoid large outbreaks will be challenging in these settings, she said in a Stanford news release.

"High and equitable uptake of vaccination is crucial," said Chin, a doctoral candidate in biomedical data science. "Attaining it may depend on successful efforts to build trust and vaccine confidence, and regular re-offers to decliners."

The researchers said two-thirds of nearly 98,000 prisoners were offered vaccines and 67% accepted at least one dose.

Acceptance was highest among Hispanic (73%) and white (72%) inmates and a little lower among those who were American Indian or Alaska Native and Asian or Pacific Islanders (68%). Acceptance was significantly lower among Black inmates (55%).

The study also revealed that younger and healthier prisoners were less likely to get vaccinated than those who were older and medically vulnerable.

"The disparities in acceptance, particularly along racial lines, are cause for concern," said senior author David Studdert, a professor of medicine and law. "But there is encouraging news here, too. Nearly 80% of the most vulnerable residents accepted, which is close to what we have seen in nursing homes."

Studdert added that the high rate of acceptance among inmates who initially passed on vaccination suggests that repeat offers should be a key component of vaccine programs.

The findings were published May 12 in the New England Journal of Medicine.


  • Stanford University School of Medicine, news release, May 12, 2021

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