While King County vaccination rates are on the rise — more than 65% of the total population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — vaccination rates in the local jail population are falling behind.
The refusal rate in King County detention centers is over 50% as many adult inmates are vaccine hesitant and/or distrustful of legal and medical systems.
UW Medicine doctors recently visited several detention centers to help answer questions, dispel myths and encourage COVID-19 vaccination.
Over the past couple weeks, Shireesha Dhanireddy, MD; Santiago Neme, MD, MPH; and Bessie Young, MD, MPH, visited the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, the King County Correctional Facility in downtown Seattle and the SCORE (South Correctional Entity) regional jail in Des Moines.
The doctors held small patient education sessions where they explained the science behind the vaccines and answered any questions inmates had, such as how the vaccines were created so quickly. The sessions allowed the UW Medicine doctors to explain the importance for people in jail to get the vaccine, especially as the virus is more easily transmitted in indoor, poorly ventilated environments like jails.
And the sessions are working. The information sessions spurred conversation among attendees about the vaccines, and after the SCORE jail visit, four of the 10 people in attendance asked to be vaccinated immediately after the session ended.
Along with conducting vaccine education sessions, UW Medicine is also helping provide vaccines to local jails.
Currently, people in local jails are offered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the Moderna vaccine. However, the jails are not able to provide the Pfizer vaccine as it needs to be stored in extremely low-temperature freezers.
To help provide patients who entered jail after receiving their first Pfizer dose access to a second dose, Harborview Medical Center partnered with Public Health — Seattle & King County Jail Health Services. Now, individuals who are in jail and have already received their first Pfizer dose are able to receive their second dose from Harborview.
Looking ahead, the Office of Healthcare Equity and UW Medicine plan to hold additional education sessions to continue providing information and encouraging people in prison to get vaccinated.
Opener photo caption: (left to right) Shireesha Dhanireddy, MD; Santiago Neme, MD, MPH; and Bessie Young, MD, MPH at Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. Courtesy of King County Department of Adult & Juvenile Detention.