Usually, jail guards can make inmates do whatever they want them to do.

However, an exception to that rule is this: Inmates can’t be forced to take a COVID-19 vaccination.  So far, the inmates in Guilford County’s two jails have had only one choice of vaccine – the somewhat maligned Johnson & Johnson vaccine – the use of which was temporarily halted twice in the state.  Now, county officials are considering offering other choices of vaccine to inmates in the hope that more will choose to be vaccinated.

Earlier in the year, jail medical staff offered all the inmates the Johnson & Johnson vaccine – this was before the vaccine got bad press regarding potential links to blood clotting – and only 35 percent of inmates chose to get vaccinated.

At a Thursday, May 6 meeting of the Guilford County commissioners, Commissioner Mary Beth Murphy asked staff if the inmates had had a choice of vaccine and she was told that they did not. 

Guilford County Health Director Dr. Iulia Vann told the Rhino Times after the meeting that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was considered a good fit for inmates because it’s a one-shot vaccine and the jail population is highly transitory.  If inmates were administered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, she said, it would be the case many times that an inmate would be out of jail before it was time to get his or her second shot. 

Vann said after the meeting that she wasn’t sure why the vaccination rate for inmates in the jail was so low, but she pointed out that the vaccination rate in Guilford County jails was actually better than in many other jails in the state.  She said she wasn’t sure if more inmates would get vaccinated if they had a choice of vaccine, but she said it was definitely an idea worth considering since the goal is to get as many eligible people vaccinated as possible.