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Prison Guards Refusing Vaccine Despite COVID-19 Outbreaks

MIami corrections institute.jpeg
AP Photo/Marta Lavandier
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Kareen Troitino stands outside the Federal Corrections Institution, Friday, March 12, 2021, in Miami. Troitino, a local correction's officer union president, said that fewer than half of the facility's 240 employees have been fully vaccinated as of March 11.

AP and the Marshall Project speak with correctional officers and union leaders nationwide, as well as health experts working inside prisons, to understand the decision-making despite the higher risk.

A Florida correctional officer polled his colleagues earlier this year in a private Facebook group about whether they'd take the COVID-19 vaccine if offered. More than half said, “Hell no.”

Prison guards are refusing coronavirus vaccines at alarming rates. That's causing some public health experts to worry about the prospect of controlling the pandemic both inside and outside of prison.

Infection rates in prisons are more than four 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.

Several correctional officers in Florida, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to talk to the press, said many of their colleagues believe that the vaccine could give them the virus. Some have latched onto debunked conspiracy theories circulating on social media, the officers said.

At FCI Miami, a federal prison in Florida, fewer than half the facility’s 240 employees had been fully vaccinated as of March 11, according to Kareen Troitino, the local corrections officer union president. Many of the workers who refused had expressed concerns about the vaccine’s efficacy and side effects, Troitino said.

The prison has had two major coronavirus outbreaks, in December and July.

The Marshall Project and The Associated Press spoke with correctional officers and union leaders nationwide, as well as with public health experts and doctors working inside prisons, to understand why officers are declining to be vaccinated, despite being at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

Click here to read the report.