Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday defended his decision to omit prisoners from Florida’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout and criticized states who prioritized inmates ahead of others.
Speaking to reporters after a public health roundtable at the Capitol, DeSantis suggested state inmates may begin receiving vaccinations once public access and vaccine supply broadens. Currently, inmates are not included in the state’s rollout regardless of age or health complications.
“We are focusing obviously on our law-abiding population first,” the Republican Governor said. “As the vaccine becomes more available, that’s something that we’d be happy to look at.”
Flanked by health experts, DeSantis also blasted states who vaccinated prison populations ahead of the elderly.
“Why would you do that?” DeSantis asked. “That’s more ideological. That’s not based on the appropriate risk.”
Later, Stanford University Medicine Professor Dr. Jay Bhattacharya suggested that vaccinating the prison population at this stage may be fruitless.
The COVID-19 virus, he contended, has already spread within facility walls.
He described the issue, however, as “complicated,” noting the physical nature of prisons themselves.
“If someone who is older has already had an infection, I don’t think the vaccine would help them,” Bhattacharya said.
According to the latest Department of Corrections data, 17,918 Florida inmates and 5,643 prison staff have contracted COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, 210 inmates have died while infected with the virus.
In a statement to Florida Politics, the Department of Corrections said staff is educating the inmate population about the COVID-19 vaccine in the meantime.
They added that staff are encouraging inmates to receive the vaccine while also briefing them on the vaccine’s benefits and side effects.
“The Florida Department of Corrections is ready to vaccinate as soon as supplies become available to our agency,” said Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch in a statement. “We will ensure community-level care is given to anyone under our care and custody who chooses to be vaccinated.”