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Already low prison vaccinations plateau through the summer


About one in five inmates in New York state have gotten COVID-19 since the pandemic started last March according to the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

That’s about double the infection rate of New York’s general public.

Syracuse University epidemiologist, David Larsen, said he’s unfortunately not surprised by that number.

“Prisons are a hotbed of infectious disease transmission they have been for since they've been designed and utilized,” he said.

Even with the heightened dangers of COVID-19 in prisons, only 49.2% of New York State inmates have been vaccinated as of September 20 despite having all been offered the vaccine.

When the pandemic first began, Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein co-founded the Covid Prison Project. There, she and fellow researchers aggregate covid infection and now vaccination data throughout the country into one database for the public.

She thinks this vaccine hesitancy is due to a distrust in prison medical systems caused by decades of subpar medical care.

“If you're incarcerated and you don't have a good source of information, you're not used to being given access to treatment, intervention, preventative medicine, then, you know, why would you trust to all of a sudden that the system itself has your best interests at heart,” said Brinkley-Rubinstein.

Not only has less than half of New York’s prison population been vaccinated, but only around 500 vaccines have been administered throughout the state prison system since the end of July.

While officials have offered vaccine clinics in all facilities, Brinkley-Rubinstein suspects this plateau might be caused by a lack of continued availability.

“People who want the vaccine should be able to get it anytime and they should be able to get information about it ongoing, they should also be able to say ‘no,’ and at a later point, say ‘yes,’” she said.

The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has said in a statement that they have information available and upcoming vaccine clinics scheduled. They have not specified where and when those clinics are being offered, but say they frequently poll inmates to see if they’d like to receive the vaccine.

“We then schedule clinics based on interest expressed in receiving the vaccine,” said a representative of the department in an additional statement. “Since the vaccine became available, DOCCS has scheduled clinics for those eligible until the entire population has been offered a vaccine. We did not track the number of clinics it took to accomplish this coverage.”

Madison Ruffo received a Master’s Degree from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in audio and health/science reporting. Madison has extensively covered the environment, local politics, public health, and business. When she’s not reporting, you can find Madison reading, hiking, and spending time with her family and friends.