Breakdown by race of those incarcerated individuals who said they would want the Covid vaccine. / Middlesex Sheriff's OfficeBreakdown by race of those incarcerated individuals who said they would want the Covid vaccine. / Middlesex Sheriff's Office

Providing data aimed at improving the national roll-out of Covid-19 vaccinations in corrections, the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office has performed a baseline survey to capture the willingness to receive vaccines among correctional employees and inmates.

To date, the sheriff's office has gone nearly four months without a positive Covid-19 test after conducting more than 160 tests among its incarcerated population.

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.

60% say they are open 

Of those inmates who first responded that they would not agree to be vaccinated, 60.17 percent indicated they were open to either changing their minds or receiving further education on vaccination, a Jan. 13 news release said.

 “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 in the release “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 toward 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,” Koutoujian said. “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 interpret 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 office 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 among 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 sheriff's office membershave been vaccinated. See this video clip >>

All personnel were front-line health-care workers and officers deemed eligible per Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidelines and work in assignments such as intake, health services and mental health. 

Next up for vaccinations: Prisoners, homeless and others in residential group settings 

After first responders finish getting their Covid-19 shots, the Baker administration says the state is preparing to start vaccinating those next on the priority list: People living in residential group settings, as GBH’s Mike Deehan reports

Among those in group settings are prisoners, which could cause some blowback for the administration. Here are two examples: Cody Shepard at the Enterprise: “2 Bridgewater prisoners die after contracting Covid inside prison experiencing outbreak.” Another reason: Prison guards’ health is also at stake, as Baker has noted. CommonWealth’s Sarah Betancourt has more >>

Dec. 8, 2020: Jail Covid-free 10 weeks, sheriff outlines safety steps

This news announcement was published Monday, Jan. 18, 2021.