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Vaccination Rollout in Some N.H. Jails Delayed Due to Johnson & Johnson Pause

Vaccine shot
Todd Bookman / NHPR

Several New Hampshire jails are postponing COVID-19 vaccination of inmates because of the pause this week on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is preferred among many facilities with transient populations because it requires one shot, rather than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which require two shots spaced apart by three to four weeks. For individuals in jail for just a few weeks or days who receive the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, coordinating the second shot on time will likely be up to them.

N.H. health commissioner Lori Shibinette says five county jails had requested Johnson & Johnson vaccines this week. One of them, the Cheshire County Jail in Keene, opted to administer the Moderna vaccine instead. Others say, unless the Johnson & Johnson returns to circulation soon, they’ll also make the switch.

Some of New Hampshire’s correctional facilities have been hit hard by COVID-19, and outbreaks in jails and prisons continue to put dozens of people in lockdown.

But so far, interest in getting vaccinated has varied by facility. Of those offering vaccines this week, the Cheshire County Jail in Keene says one fifth of the population signed up for vaccines. At the Merrimack County Jail in Boscawen, that percentage is closer to one third.

This number reflects, in part, the lower rates of vaccination expected among people under 30, which makes up the bulk of the jail’s population. Attorneys say there is also mistrust among incarcerated people toward correctional medical staff, and many others already have partial immunity because of contracting COVID-19 during a facility outbreak.

The state prioritized vaccinating correctional facility staff earlier this year. Medical confidentiality laws make it hard to get a full count, but most jails say the majority of their staff are vaccinated. In some jails, including those in Sullivan and Rockingham counties, officials estimate a staff vaccination rate of close to 90 percent.

Editor's Note: This post has been updated to attibute information to Commissioner Lori Shibinette. A previous version attributed it to Dr. Beth Daly.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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