Dolovich Publishes CDC Article on COVID-19 Vaccination in Prisons

April 1, 2021
UCLA Law Professor Sharon Dolovich
UCLA Law Professor Sharon Dolovich

UCLA School of Law Professor Sharon Dolovich has published an article that analyzes key data on the willingness of incarcerated people to receive vaccinations for COVID-19.

The article, “Willingness to Receive COVID-19 Vaccination among Incarcerated or Detained Persons in Correctional and Detention Facilities — Four States, September–December 2020,” was published in the April 2 issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), one of the nation’s oldest and most esteemed epidemiology publications.

Dolovich’s co-authors include Marc F. Stern, Alexandra M. Piasecki, Lara B. Strick, Poornima Rajeshwar, Erika Tyagi, Priti R. Patel, Rena Fukunaga, and Nathan W. Furukawa. Their analysis applies data that Stern gathered in a survey of people incarcerated in jails and prisons. Rajeshwar and Tyagi work with Dolovich as staff members of the UCLA Law COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project, which Dolovich founded in March 2020.

Dolovich is the faculty director of UCLA Law’s Prison Law and Policy Program and an authority on criminal law, the law and policy of prisons and punishment, and other post-conviction issues. In overseeing the COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project, she assembled a team that has to date included a total of 235 people, including many student and alumni volunteers, to compile and analyze information. The project has regularly made national news, and Dolovich has shared bylines with her collaborators in several leading publications.

“After a pandemic year, during which people in prisons and jails were infected and died of COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates when compared with the U.S. as a whole, the vaccine offers the first meaningful opportunity actually to arrest the spread of the virus in carceral facilities,” Dolovich says. “The challenge is how to counter the understandable vaccine hesitancy that is already being seen among people in custody.”

The MMWR article thus includes a number of important findings. The authors determined that willingness to receive a COVID-19 vaccine was lowest among Black participants (36.7%), incarcerated people between the ages of 18 and 29 (38.5%), and those held in jails versus prisons (43.7%). Prisoners most commonly refused vaccinations because they distrusted health care, correctional, or government personnel or institutions. And among study participants who said that they would refuse vaccinations, nearly one in five believed that they were not at risk for COVID-19 and thought that vaccinations are unnecessary.

“One obstacle to getting the vaccine inside prisons and jails is the failure of public health bodies to prioritize incarcerated people,” Dolovich says. “But even with available vaccines, levels of trust toward authorities are generally very low in prisons and jails. The speculation has been that there would be a high number of residents who would decline vaccines, thus compromising the mission of getting herd immunity inside. Unfortunately, our study bears that out.”

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