Methods. 610 prison staff and people incarcerated completed a cross-sectional survey in May 2021. The vaccine hesitancy scale (VHS) identified perceived risk and confidence in vaccination. The VHS is not specific to one vaccine; it assesses general perceptions of vaccination. A single item measured whether people typically follow public health protocols in the prison. Background and demographic variables were also collected. A combination of analyses was utilized including ANOVA, Chi-Square, and Pearson’s correlation.
Results. Vaccine hesitancy was moderate to high for both populations. Incarcerated people had more confidence in vaccination than staff; differences did not reach statistical significance, F(1, 540) = 1.30, p = .26. Incarcerated people had statistically significantly higher perceptions of risk compared to staff, F(1, 544) = 3.84, p = .05. Both populations reported doing their best to follow public health protocols. For both populations, vaccine hesitancy varied by education and veteran status. Among staff, hesitancy varied by gender and political beliefs. For people incarcerated, it varied by pre-incarceration income and visit frequency.
Conclusions. Studies show vaccine hesitancy is associated with a person’s choice to vaccinate themselves and family members. This study finds moderate vaccine hesitancy among staff living in primarily rural areas and people incarcerated. General hesitancy and distrust may, in part, stem from distrust in the criminal-legal system among incarcerated people. Developing partnerships with local public health agencies may be a promising strategy for some; however, official partnerships with government agencies may actually deter some people from undergoing vaccination due to perceived risk of current or future surveillance. Partnering with people who are currently and formerly incarcerated and with correctional staff to develop effective plans for these unique populations is key to integrating local and group norms into health and safety planning. Targeted intervention is needed to reduce hesitancy within the staff and incarcerated populations so implemented public health protocols like vaccination for influenza or booster shots for COVID-19 are accepted.