Hoping to provide data that will improve the national rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations in corrections, the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office (MSO) announced last week that it has performed a baseline survey to capture the willingness to receive vaccines amongst correctional employees and incarcerated individuals.
To date, the MSO has gone nearly four months without a positive COVID-19 test despite conducting over 160 tests amongst its incarcerated population during that timeframe.
The results of the baseline survey, offered to all staff and incarcerated individuals, found that 80 percent of staff and 40 percent of incarcerated individuals who responded indicated they would want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them. Of those incarcerated individuals who responded they would not initially agree to be vaccinated 60.17% percent indicated they were open to either changing their minds or receiving further education on vaccination.
“At the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office, we use data every day to guide our decision-making and craft the best approaches to a host of critical issues,” said Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian. “With these baseline surveys, we can not only understand how many people are initially interested in receiving vaccinations, but how we can encourage more people to receive them through educational and informational efforts.”
Results of the survey of incarcerated individuals are being used to plan upcoming educational sessions at the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction by outside medical experts. A second survey of the incarcerated population will be conducted following the educational sessions to determine whether attitudes towards the vaccine change.
“It’s my hope that through the process we will be better positioned to serve our staff, those in our care and their families,” said Sheriff Koutoujian. “I believe this data and process can help our colleagues across the Commonwealth and the nation as they map out plans to administer vaccines to their staff and individuals in their custody.”
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has determined that those working and living in congregate care settings – including correctional facilities – will be eligible to receive the vaccine in Phase One of the distribution plan. Administration of the vaccine at the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction will be conducted on a voluntary basis.
“I intepret the survey results from MSO staff and incarcerated individuals as very promising,” said Dr. Alysse Wurcel, a Tufts Medical Center infectious diseases physician who has been advising the MSO since last February. “Understanding vaccine willingness and hesitancy in both employees and incarcerated individuals is the first crucial step in successfully operationalizing COVID-19 vaccination in the jails. The data collected by Sheriff Koutoujian is the first I am seeing on COVID-19 vaccination interest amongst people in jail in the nation, and it will help us develop better, smarter educational programs and policy. I hope to see this data shared and potentially published as we work towards protecting those in congregate care settings from COVID-19.”
To date, 103 MSO staff members have been vaccinated. All personnel were frontline healthcare workers and officers deemed eligible per Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidelines and work in assignments such as intake, health services, and mental health.