Coronavirus: All prisoners have now been offered vaccine

About 84% have received at least one dose, suggesting refusal rate of approximately 16%

All inmates in the Irish prison system have now been offered a vaccination against Covid-19.

The Health Service Executive has been vaccinating on a prison-by-prison basis and programmes have been completed in 10 of the 12 prisons in the State.

Inmates in the remaining two facilities have already received their first dose and are due to receive their second dose by late August. At this point the HSE will have completed the entire prison vaccination programme.

“Mop up” vaccinations are continuing across prisons to accommodate recently sentenced prisoners, said the HSE.


According to figures released to The Irish Times, about 2,700 (71 per cent) of the 3,822 people in custody have been vaccinated fully. About 84 per cent have received at least one dose, suggesting a refusal rate of approximately 16 per cent.

If the 16 per cent figure holds up, it will likely put the refusal rate in prisons above that of the adult general population.

However, it would be significantly lower than observed in some other country's prison systems. Some prisons in the United Kingdom have reported refusal rates of more than 50 per cent. Similar results were found in US prisons.

The vaccination of prisoners is seen by health officials as particularly important due to the prevalence of medically vulnerable people in custodial settings. It will also allow strict movement controls and visiting bans to be relaxed.

Since the start of the pandemic, 167 prisoners have been infected with the virus. Of these 74 cases were as a result of transmission in the community while the remainder were the result of prisoner-to-prisoner transmission.

Health officials are understood to be pleased with the take-up rate among Irish prisoners. They found that initially prisoners had little knowledge of the various vaccines and their effects, which was leading to some apprehension.

A small number of prisoners were also spreading false information about the vaccines, said sources. The Irish Prison Service and the Red Cross responded by producing an information video on the vaccines and broadcasting it on in-cell television to help allay prisoner concerns.

The vaccination of inmates got off to a slow start with just 2 per cent of the prison population being inoculated by the end of May. At one stage prisoners in the high-security Portlaoise Prison protested over the slow rollout by refusing to return to their cells at night while the Inspector of Prisons raised concerns that inmates were not receiving parity of care.

Prison staff

However the rate of vaccinations, which are administered by the National Ambulance Service, increased greatly when the rollout began in earnest on June 9th.

The vast majority of prisoners have received the Pfizer vaccine, with about 200 receiving the single dose Janssen vaccine.

Prison staff under the age of 40 who were not already vaccinated in the community have been receiving their doses in the facilities at the same time as prisoners.

The vaccination programme has allowed physical visits to resume in nine prisons: Wheatfield, Portlaoise, Loughan House, Arbour Hill, Shelton Abbey, Castlerea, Mountjoy, Dochas and the Midlands Prisons. Visits in Cork, Limerick and Cloverhill Prisons are to resume shortly, seven days after all prisoners there are vaccinated fully.

An Irish Prison System spokesman said easing of restrictions will also be subject to the levels of infection and hospitalisation rates in the general community, “given the increased concern surrounding the Delta variant. While a schedule is agreed with the HSE it is subject to change and is outside the control of the Irish Prison Service.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times