Florida yet to present plan for prison inmates, guards, despite high-risk status

New numbers show Florida leads the country in COVID-19-related deaths among prisoners, according to data collected by the Marshall Project. Despite the data, the state has yet to roll out a plan for vaccinating prison inmates and guards, which are both considered high-risk populations.

"Prisons are notorious for the congestion and spread of normal infectious diseases," USF Professor of Public Health Dr. Jay Wolfson said.

Since the pandemic began, Florida has recorded 189 COVID-19 related deaths among prisoners, which is more than any other state. This is according to the Marshall Project, which is a non-profit organization tracking COVID-19 cases in state and federal prisons.

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"They are a natural place that breed infectious disease once they have been planted there. The dilemma is prisoners are required to be taken care of there as a matter of law," Dr. Wolfson said.

In December, researchers from seven of the nation's top universities submitted a report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urging the agency to prioritize the vaccination of inmates and prison staff. In the report, the CDC says states should include prisons in the early stages of vaccine distribution. According to a map in the report, Florida is among 11 other states with distribution plans that don't include prisons.

"Once the prisoners get it, the staff are going to get it much easier. They go home at night. They go shopping in the grocery store. They serve as the primary vehicle for contagion and community spread. They need to be protected first," Dr. Wolfson said.

As Dr. Wolfson explains, nursing home staff and prison staff share the same risk.

Monday, FOX 13 reached out to the Florida Department of Corrections about vaccination plans for prisons. In an email, a spokesperson says the FDC has applied to the state's vaccination program.

"FDC will receive further direction on distribution from DOH as supplies become available," an FDC spokesperson said in the email.

There's still no clear timeline as to when prison guards and inmates in Florida could first get the vaccine.

"The bottom line is we are all on the same team. It is the enemy and we have to work to figure out how we are going to do this," Dr. Wolfson said.