As Eligibility Opens, Officials Grapple With Vaccine Hesitancy Among Prison Staff, Inmates

As Eligibility Opens, Officials Grapple With Vaccine Hesitancy Among Prison Staff, Inmates

6:17pm Apr 01, 2021
Though a small fraction of North Carolina’s inmates have already qualified due to age or prison work assignment, tens of thousands have yet to get a shot. GERRY BROOME/AP

All incarcerated people in North Carolina are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. It’s welcome news for prisoner rights advocates, who have lobbied public health officials to prioritize inmate vaccinations after numerous outbreaks were reported at correctional facilities across the state. 

Though a small fraction of North Carolina’s inmates have already qualified due to age or prison work assignment, tens of thousands have yet to get a shot. Jordan Wilkie of Carolina Public Press has been covering the Department of Public Safety’s vaccine distribution process and COVID-19 outbreaks in the state’s prisons. 

WFDD's April Laissle spoke with him about how officials are getting those shots into arms, and why some incarcerated people don’t want them. 

Interview Highlights

On vaccine hesitancy among inmates:

The people who are incarcerated who I've talked to seem to know about the history of medical testing on people who are incarcerated in this country and are skeptical that it could be happening again. Folks who are younger, especially people who are looking at a release date in the next few months, seem to be much more skeptical about accepting the vaccine and being inoculated to COVID-19 — many saying that they would prefer to do that when they're out of prison and able to go to their own health care provider.

On incentives for vaccination:

The Department of Public Safety is offering educational materials to people who are incarcerated and to their staff members. And it's not clear what the impact of those educational materials are. The department is also relying on an incentive package which gives people a 10-minute phone call, extra visits and potentially five days off of a prison sentence or $5 in commissary if they’re not eligible. It’s a somewhat remarkable package because it offers things that are already somewhat essential to people's well-being while they're incarcerated and uses that as a carrot for participating in this program. 

*Editor's Note: This transcript was lightly edited for clarity.

 

For the most up-to-date information on coronavirus in North Carolina, visit our Live Updates blog here. WFDD wants to hear your stories — connect with us and let us know what you’re experiencing.

 

Support your
public radio station