Prisons serve as unwitting example of vaccine’s success

In the early days of the pandemic, U.S. prisons were overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases. No surprise, considering their cramped and crowded conditions. But once the vaccines were introduced, their case numbers plummeted.



September 10, 2021 - 3:38 PM

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Researchers use controlled studies to determine the efficacy of things such as products, drugs, advertising campaigns, etc. In the studies they limit subjects’ exposure to outside influences such as their diets if a weight-loss drug is being evaluated.

On the other side of the coin are random studies, where people are given a drug, for example, but maintain their normal lives.

In determining the effectiveness of the vaccines to treat COVID-19, the U.S. prison system is unwittingly serving as something of a controlled study.

In its initial stages, the pandemic ran rife through the prison population, where hundreds and sometimes thousands of people live in close, confined quarters.

Notwithstanding the inhumaneness of packed prisons and jails, they presented ideal conditions for the transmission of the coronavirus, infecting hundreds of thousands across the country.

But once vaccines were produced and prisoners inoculated, the number of those infected with the virus plunged.

Wisconsin proves the point.

As the pandemic gained steam, the Green Bay Correctional Institution became a petri dish when 258 of its prisoners — a full 25% — contracted the virus, as well as 25 staff members. The outbreak was the biggest among any of the nation’s prisons. 

In August of 2020, Brown County, home of Green Bay, had the third-highest rate of infections in the state. Officials suspected the prison outbreak was the result of a staff member or an inmate recently admitted into the system. 

By November, more than 10,000 or 50% of Wisconsin’s prison population had contracted the virus.  

Today, even with a huge spike in cases due to the delta variant, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections has five active cases among inmates, and 45 among staff. 

Kevin Carr, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, gives the full credit to the vaccines. Almost 70% of the prison population is fully vaccinated, Carr said in an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio.

“We’re not satisfied with 70 percent,” he said, a full 20% higher than the state as a whole.

 “I’d love to see it a whole lot higher, and we’re working toward that through education and communication with the persons in our care and our staff.”

To date, Wisconsin has lost 32 prisoners to COVID.