KEY POINTS

  • A 67-year-old man in Florida charged with murder has been denied COVID-19 vaccine priority after asking to get both doses
  • His lawyer said people of his age and with his health issues, which include diabetes, are usually "first in line"
  • The judge deciding on his case denied the inmate's request, saying he "presents an escape risk"

A Florida inmate charged with murder has requested to be allowed to jump to the front of the coronavirus vaccination line and get both doses of the vaccine.

George McCray, a 67-year-old convicted felon being held at Palm Beach County Jail, expressed his wish to get vaccinated against COVID-19, citing his age and health issues, which include diabetes and high blood pressure, Sun-Sentinel reported.

The inmate, who is a Marine Corps veteran, said he wants to receive both doses at the West Palm Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Center, whose officials said they are willing to accommodate McCray. According to defense attorney Scott Pribble, McCray quarantined in jail for over three weeks after coming in contact with two fellow inmates who tested positive for COVID-19.

“You’ve seen in the news that people are lined up trying to get appointments at Publix and everywhere else trying to get vaccinated, especially people who are Mr. McCray’s age and have Mr. McCray’s health issues — they’re first in line,” said Pribble.

The judge deciding on McCray's case, however, has sided with Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and denied his request on the grounds that transporting the prisoner would pose many risks, given the serious charges he is facing.

Judge Kirk Volker said McCray, who, according to records, also has a pending robbery count and eight previous felony convictions, “presents an escape risk despite his age.”

Texas inmates denied of extra protection against COVID-19 Supreme Court ruling denied Texas inmates' appeal for extra protection against COVID-19. Photo: klagenwagen / Flickr

McCray, who is being held on no bond on two first-degree murder charges from a 2016 shooting, would require a “SWAT-like team” should he be transported from one place to another, says Captain Darlyn Morris during the hearing held over Zoom.

Morris added that the VA's rules forbid any weapons within the premises, which could put the deputies in charge of guarding McCray at risk.

In response to Morris' statement, the defense lawyer argued that the Sheriff's Office is perfectly capable of taking inmates for medical appointments outside the jail all the time.

“The sheriff has the capacity to take a prisoner, even a prisoner charged with first-degree murder, to take that person in custody to a facility to receive medical treatment, and then safely and securely bring them back to the jail,” Pribble said. “They’re just stopping Mr. McCray from getting a potentially life-saving vaccine.”

The judge suggested the possibility of having the vaccine delivered from the VA to McCray or allowing the Sheriff's Office to transport the doses from the VA to the inmate instead, although "it may not be feasible," he added.

A lawyer for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office assured that all of the inmates will be vaccinated once the doses roll out to the jail.

As the COVID-19 vaccine continues to roll out across the country, state governments have begun developing different approaches in deciding who to prioritize in its list of recipients. With a long list of people eagerly waiting for their turn to receive the vaccine, McCray is only one of many senior residents in Florida who wish to get vaccinated against COVID-19.