More than two-thirds of inmates and staff at two Bristol County jails have refused the COVID-19 vaccine, according to state records.
The records, which are updated weekly, show as of Feb. 17, 403 inmates and 384 staff have refused the Moderna vaccine at Bristol County House of Correction and Jail in Dartmouth. For the Ash Street Jail in New Bedford, 73 inmates and 53 staff have refused.
The facilities have a combined inmate population of around 670 and a staff population of about 650, according to Jonathan Darling, spokesperson for the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office.
Based on the population numbers provided by the sheriff’s office and the most recent report, about 71% of inmates and 67% of staff from both facilities have refused the vaccine.
It is possible facility staff are refusing vaccines because they have been vaccinated outside the facility. The report only accounts for vaccines administered by the correctional facility.
Darling said the sheriff’s office is not keeping track of staff who get vaccinated externally and that a staff member is under no obligation to share information about any medical treatment or decision.
As of Feb. 17, 165 inmates and 193 staff received the first dose at the Dartmouth and New Bedford facilities, and 70 staff received the second dose. According to the report, no inmates at either facility received a second dose.
Darling said the vaccine has been offered to all inmates and staff, and continues to be offered to all inmates and staff in case any change their minds.
Information regarding the vaccine is available in every unit as pamphlets and flyers, and through videos developed by UMass Medical School that play on the televisions, Darling said.
He said inmates are also presented with an informational sheet at the time of the vaccine offering, when the inmate will, with a signature, either accept or decline the vaccine.
All the communications are in English and Spanish, with posted flyers also in Portuguese. For inmates who do not speak any of those languages, facility staff use translation services to communicate, including having the medical professionals speak to them, Darling said.
Massachusetts started vaccinations at correctional facilities, along with congregate care facilities, on Jan. 18 as part of the state’s first phase of the vaccine rollout.
According to a Jan. 13 press release, vaccinations for the Department of Correction were expected to last for three weeks to inoculate all residents and staff.
Just before the vaccine rollout, the Dartmouth jail was seeing its highest number of active COVID-19 cases with 40 correctional officers positive the week of Jan. 7 through Jan. 13, according to the state report. Active cases among inmates peaked the previous week at 15. Ash Street Jail did not experience a similar spike.
The Dartmouth jail has had 207 confirmed cases of officers and staff, and 89 confirmed cases of inmates through Feb. 17.
People have a range of reasons for refusing the vaccine. It might be an initial refusal, with some people planning to take it once more data about the vaccine’s efficacy or side effects is available. Others might refuse because they are staunchly anti-vaccination.
If inmates or staff decide to take the vaccine after initially refusing, the weekly reports will show a drop in refusal counts.
“While we certainly understand that participating or not participating in the vaccine program is a personal health care decision for every individual, I hope that as many people take the vaccine as possible as we continue to battle against this unprecedented global pandemic,” said Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson in an email statement to The Standard-Times.