As states have begun COVID-19 inoculations at prisons across the country, corrections employees are refusing vaccines at alarming rates, causing some public health experts to worry about the prospect of controlling the pandemic both inside and outside. Infection rates in prisons are more than three times as high as in the general public. Prison staff helped accelerate outbreaks by refusing to wear masks, downplaying people’s symptoms, and haphazardly enforcing social distancing and hygiene protocols in confined, poorly ventilated spaces ripe for viral spread.
But guards’ refusal to be vaccinated has been a blessing for some incarcerated people. The vaccines have a short shelf life after being thawed out, so officials have offered the leftover vaccines to prisoners instead of letting them go to waste. Julia Ann Poff is incarcerated at FMC Carswell, a federal prison in Texas for women with special medical and mental health needs, for sending bombs to state and federal officials. She said she received her first shot in mid-December, after several officers declined.
“I consider myself very blessed to have received it,” she wrote, using the prison’s email system. “I have lupus and a recent diagnosis of heart disease, so there was no way I could afford to let myself get (sick).”