TALLAHASSEE, FL – After months of keeping Floridians in prisons and jails off the priority list for a COVID vaccine, the state is finally distributing the shots. But despite their vulnerability, many inside are skeptical.
Florida’s Department of Corrections Secretary issued a recent statement, with a personal appeal to staff and anyone incarcerated to “get the shot.” But families and advocacy groups say good information is hard to come by from the inside, so people are leery.
Denise Rock, executive director of the Florida Cares Charity Corporation, said the department should do more to establish trust around the vaccine, because misinformation sticks.
“Like, I think what’s probably being said is the same stuff that we hear in society,” said Rock. “But they’re hearing it differently, being incarcerated and not having, you know, information or being exposed to information.”
Rock praised the Corrections Department for making the vaccines available, although it is still tight-lipped. It says about 33,000 people have elected to receive a vaccination, but they’re tracked by a person’s county residency, and lumped into the countywide statistics collected by the Florida Department of Health.
Trish Brown, director of community outreach and engagement at the Tallahassee Community Action Committee, said the state should have released people who are most vulnerable – and could still do so, since the facilities aren’t equipped to manage a pandemic.
She said she’s hearing from people inside who are worried.
“‘We’re scared and we’re worried’ – again, the way the prisons are set up, where people are in close spaces, it’s just not conducive to continue to keep around people,” said Brown.
Her group and others are recommending at least providing people behind bars with information on paper, because they’re hearing only those who choose to be vaccinated get access to additional information. They believe it’s important to give people the time and details they need to make an informed decision.