Skip main navigation

Why are vaccinations important in prison?

Here, we will learn about why infectious diseases are so important to consider if you work or live in a prison.
Collage of photos of prison staff holding up placards saying 'I get vaccinated because...' with their personal reasons for why they choose to get vaccinated.

You may have noticed a significant overlap between the risk factors discussed in the previous two articles.

This means that similar circumstances or conditions are present both before people enter prison, and continue whilst they are in prison, sometimes for different reasons.

Diagram with overlap of risk factors to infection before and during prison

All of the behaviours and circumstances that we have just learned about help explain why people living in prisons are more at risk of being infected. All of these factors put together meant that typically there are many infectious diseases circulating around prisons at any time.

This means that prison staff, as well as people living in prison, are at more at risk of coming into contact with infectious diseases than people who don’t live or work in prisons.

With a higher risk of infectious diseases comes a higher risk of transmission of infectious diseases to others. Infectious diseases can spread two ways through prison staff: out of prison and into prison.

How does transmission occur out of prison?

As well as being at risk of coming in to contact with infectious disease themselves, prison staff are at risk of carrying these diseases with them into to the community, especially to their family or close friends, but also the community at large.

Below is a representation of a prison staff member coming into contact with people living in prison who are infectious (in pink). These people infect other people living in prison and prison staff. Prison staff then leave the prison, go home to their family or close ones and pass this disease onto them.

How does transmission occur into prison?

Infectious diseases also spread in the opposite direction. People entering prison (staff, visitors or people newly incarcerated) can bring in infections from the community into prisons. As we have seen, prisons are enclosed environments in which infection easily spreads, therefore, sometimes one case can quickly result in a large outbreak.

Diagram showing how prison staff can transmit infectious diseases from their household into prisons

We also have seen that people living in prison often suffer from underlying health conditions; if that’s the case they could become very ill when infected.

How can vaccination protect prisons?

We have seen why infectious diseases are more likely to occur in prisons, and how this can put the lives of prison staff, people living in prison, both their relatives, and the community at large, at at risk.

Many infectious diseases are now preventable through vaccines. Vaccination can help avoid serious disease if someone does become infected; and it also makes it less likely that they will pass a disease on to other people around them.

Taking the previous example of the prison staff who becomes infected and makes their family sick when they go home, in this case, despite being exposed to a disease in their work in the prison, the staff member does not get infected and does not pass the disease onto their family. This is because they are vaccinated (yellow circle) and so protected against the disease.

Diagram showing how prison staff do not transmit infectious diseases to or from their household into or out of prisons if they are vaccinated

Notice how not only does the prison staff member not get infected because they’re vaccinated, but other people living in prison are also able to protect themselves from getting sick because they are vaccinated too. This means there will generally be fewer infections in the prisons, which means as a whole, the people living and working in the prison will be healthier and less likely to become ill.

Also notice that some of the prison staff member’s family are not protected by vaccination. This could be because their immune systems may not be strong enough to get vaccinated. For example, people with certain cancers are not able to be vaccinated, or very young babies could be too young to be vaccinated. However, because the prison staff member is vaccinated, they do not pass any disease onto their family.

Let’s hear about why some prison staff choose to get vaccinated:

This article is from the free online

Prison Health: Vaccinations for People Working and Living in Prisons (Non-Vaccine Trained Staff)

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now