Should some inmates receive the COVID-19 vaccine before seniors? Here’s why some say ‘yes’

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — As seniors across the state struggle to sign up for COVID-19 vaccines, 9 Investigates found out some local jails plan to give them to senior inmates.

Advocates said it’s part of the ongoing effort to keep all seniors safe.

READ: Black market vaccines: How lack of COVID-19 vaccine supply is leading to unauthorized dealings

The Florida Department of Health has told local jails that inmates will now be vaccinated if they are over age 65.

The counties are not required to do it, but as of now at this point three local jails said they are working on plans to get the vaccine to inmates who qualify.

But there are not many who do. Seminole County has about 20 inmates over the age of 65, and Osceola County has 16.

READ: ‘Vaccine vacations’: How some are shelling out big bucks for vacation packages promising COVID-19 vaccines

The plan comes after criminal defense attorneys wrote a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis urging him to move those who are involved in court proceedings up on the priority list for a vaccine, which includes some people who are incarcerated.

They argue courts need to get underway in the name of justice.

For now, DeSantis said he would not put people behind bars ahead of seniors. But some say he should because it isn’t just about what happens on the inside, but also what happens outside jail walls.

READ: Walmart, Winn Dixie, Publix to receive COVID-19 vaccine doses this week

Almost 11 million people are in and out of jails and prisons across the nation every year, and with COVID-19 Dr. Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein said inmates and jail staff put the community at risk if they are not vaccinated.

“Those folks that are exposed in jails and prisons bring that back out into the community and so when we don’t vaccinate people who are incarcerated or the staff who work in those settings, we are actually putting elderly people in the community at risk too,” she said. “These efforts should be in concert with each other.”

READ: Seminole County partners with local churches to distribute COVID-19 vaccine

As of last week, the Orange County Jail reported that 242 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

The Osceola County Jail said since March they’ve had 74 inmates infected and 71 staff and vendors test positive for a total of 146 cases.

READ: Coronavirus: Security guard punched after asking shopper to wear mask

In Seminole County, the jail has reported 207 positive cases so far.

Brinkley-Rubenstein said in communities of color there are often multi-generational households, which means many incarcerated people could live with an elderly resident when they are released.

It’s one of several issues, critics say, of disparities between different communities when it comes to health care, which includes the need for the COVID-19 vaccine.

READ: Delta Air Lines extends middle seat blocking policy through April

Since the beginning of the pandemic, families have complained that corrections officers and inmates were left behind, arguing that even PPE was not readily available.

Seminole County said they did get doses of the Moderna vaccine for medical staff working with inmates. Other local jails have yet to publicize their plans.

A federal judge said Oregon had to vaccinate prisoners who wanted to receive the vaccine, which was the first order of its kind. The judge said it’s important, because they live and work in close quarters and have limited ability to social distance.

Shannon Butler

Shannon Butler, WFTV.com

Shannon joined the Eyewitness News team in 2013.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.