TALLAHASSEE, FL – Health advocacy groups say Florida’s recommendations on COVID vaccine priority should include people in prison as well as staff members. Gov. Ron DeSantis broke away from Centers for Disease Control recommendations when he ordered people 65 and older to be next in line for COVID vaccinations, instead of those 75 and older.
He said his focus is on seniors, “where the risk is greatest.”
Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, co-founder of the COVID Prison Project and a researcher at the University of North Carolina, said infection rates in prisons are four times higher, and the death rate is three times higher, than in the general population.
“Prisons in Florida and also in many states across the country have been the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Brinkley-Rubinstein observed. “And we’ve seen little ability for prison systems to mitigate large-scale outbreaks.”
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A statement from the Florida Department of Corrections said it is waiting for approval and direction from the Florida Department of Health. It redirects people to the state’s Vaccination Plan, which lists prisons in later phases of the rollout. The department currently lists 191 COVID-related deaths among people in prison on its website.
Groups, from the American Medical Association to the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, recommend incarcerated people be given priority after healthcare workers and nursing-home residents.
Brinkley-Rubinstein added there’s a clear connection between what happens in prisons and communities.
“Staff move in and out of the prison and then, they go back home to their community,” Brinkley-Rubinstein explained. “And if they’re exposed in the prison setting, they bring that back to their neighborhood; and if they’re exposed in their neighborhood, they may bring that into prison. And that same risk happens when people are released.”
Since the pandemic started, the COVID Prison Project has tracked more than 311,000 cases and 1,860 deaths among incarcerated people across the nation. Among prison staff, it reports more than 70,000 infections and 100 deaths nationwide.