In partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC), a team including BIDS Faculty Affiliate Erin M. Kerrison (and colleagues Jordan M. Hyatt and Valerio Baćak) administered an electronic survey to a diverse sample of PADOC correctional staff (n=4,232) about their perceived exposure to COVID-19 while working, perceptions of vaccine safety, and willingness to accept a no-cost vaccination. (1) Across the prison system, respondents from more rural Western regions reported an unwillingness to take the vaccine, compared to those working at sites in Eastern, more densely populated regions. (2) Including those who believed they had already been exposed to COVID-19, respondents that would refuse the vaccine reported doubts about its safety and a general mistrust toward the US medical establishment. (3) Addressing the spread of misinformation among correctional staff—as well as attending to the variation in vaccine uptake that spans categories of personnel race, age, tenure, and position—will require multi-pronged education efforts and a strategic outreach plan that centers the importance placed on the sources of that content.
Abstract: Since the global pandemic began in early 2020, COVID-19 has impacted almost every correctional facility in the country. In Pennsylvania, the pandemic response has required significant changes to the operation of correctional facilities and necessitated a reconsideration of the risks and responsibilities for staff. Although the risks of viral infection are not a completely new concern for people working in prisons, the highly transmissible coronavirus and the near-universal nature of the resulting pandemic has potentially changed how health and safety are viewed. To better understand these concerns, the staff of the PADOC was surveyed to allow them to self-report their perceptions of the pandemic response, the need for vaccination, and other relevant areas. This independent report draws on these data to provide insight into the current perspective held by the PADOC staff population regarding vaccination and some of the factors that are associated with that decision. In turn, these descriptive data can be used to inform the development of evidence-based public health and correctional policies during the pandemic.