STARKE, Fla. – Nearly 33,000 Florida inmates say they want a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Florida Department of Health. Public health officials say they intend to offer the vaccine to state prisoners within the next two weeks.
State Sen. Jason Pizzo said that since January, wardens at state prisons have had lists of inmates who said they want the vaccine.
While state prisons work to distribute vaccines across state and privately-operated prisons, county officials have already begun the process of vaccinating people incarcerated at their county detention centers.
On Thursday afternoon, workers from the state Department of Health arrived at the Bradford County Jail, wheeling in a cooler of vaccine doses. Inside the jail, 29 men and women sat waiting.
The Bradford County Sheriff’s Office and local health department already offered the vaccine to inmates with medical conditions and those older than 50. This time, they were offering it to any inmates older than 17.
Thomas Doane, 52, was one of the men waiting for a shot on Thursday. Doane has been incarcerated since February.
“I was very happy to get it because I am homeless right now. I live kind of dirty. I don’t want to be homeless, but I am, and this will kind of help,” said Doane.
Many inmates at the Bradford County Jail declined the offer to get the vaccine. The jail averages, according to Col. Brad Smith, 180 inmates at a time. Only 29 opted to get a shot.
Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith said the jail has not had an outbreak of the coronavirus like other detention centers and prisons across the country. Smith said offering COVID-19 shots benefits more than just inmates, but also his staff and the public.
“You’ve got to remember 90% of these people are going to be right next to you tomorrow at Walmart, at the shopping center, at church. They are going to be back there,” said Smith. “Those that they want the shot, we are going to make it available.”
In Jacksonville, nearly 35 inmates were vaccinated at the Jacksonville Pre-Trial Detention Facility on March 15. Armor Correctional Health Services, the medical provider from the Duval County jail, said that at the Florida Department of Health’s direction, only those 65 and older or with “acutely ill conditions” were offered the vaccine.
The state Department of Health has directed Armor to offer COVID-19 vaccine signup forms to nearly 3,500 people incarcerated within the Duval County Pre-Trial Detention Facility, Montgomery Correctional Center, and Community Transition Center.
According to a spokesperson with Armor, the health department has also directed the medical provider to wait to order the vaccines until they have a final number of people who want shots.
The Duval County jail dealt with an outbreak of the coronavirus last summer that infected more than 400 inmates, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
Records show that since the outbreak last summer at the jail, three inmates died from complications due to COVID-19. The deaths occurred in July and November.