Florida inmates to get the vaccine after months-long wait

Corrections officials have identified about 33,000 inmates who want to get the vaccine.
Union Correctional Institution in Raiford in 2018.
Union Correctional Institution in Raiford in 2018. [ CHERIE DIEZ | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published April 6, 2021|Updated April 6, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis refused to send COVID-19 vaccines to state prisoners for several months, but state officials announced Tuesday that about 30,000 doses have been earmarked for the Florida Department of Corrections.

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowtiz told the Times/Herald the state is sending doses within the next week. Once supplies arrive, corrections officials have indicated that they have the ability to vaccinate all inmates who want a shot within 10 days.

Corrections officials have identified about 33,000 inmates who want to get the vaccine, Moskowitz said Tuesday. The state will also be assisting seven privately-operated prisons in getting doses to inmates.

DeSantis’ office and state prison officials did not respond to requests seeking comment. But in March, three month into Florida’s vaccination efforts, the governor’s office “made clear” that DeSantis would not send doses to prisoners ahead of other populations.

Prison officials, in the meantime, spent months doing outreach and providing information to inmates about the vaccines’ benefits and potential side effects, and the process of scheduling a shot for the moment supplies became available.

In a February statement, a Department of Corrections spokesman said inmates were being encouraged to get the vaccine but could choose not to get it by filling out a Refusal of Health Care Services Form.

“If an inmate later decides they want to receive the vaccination, they may request an appointment to be vaccinated,” Paul Walker, a corrections spokesman, said at the time.

Corrections Secretary Mark Inch in January made a request for the state agency’s share of doses and identified 4,169 inmates who are 65 and older and met the state’s age group criteria, as the governor focused on seniors.