HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, with the assistance of the Florida Department of Health, has launched its COVID-19 vaccination program for inmates at the Falkenberg and Orient Road Jails.

Critics say the state should have started this process sooner, but now HCSO said it expects to receive up to 500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine each week to give inmates on a voluntary basis.

“The sooner we can get the vast majority of people vaccinated, the better for both those within our jails and those within our communities,” Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said. “By providing a means for inmates to get vaccinated, we are not only protecting those individuals but also protecting the hardworking deputies and staff members working within our jails every day. In addition, when those inmates are released from jail, being vaccinated will prevent them from contracting and spreading this deadly virus to anyone in the public with whom they come in contact. I hope our inmates take advantage of this life-saving opportunity.”

The sheriff’s office is having nurses from a company that provides medical services in the detention facilities administer the shots. As part of the booking process, deputies will now ask new arrestees if they’d like to be vaccinated and they’ll go on a waitlist.

“My concern was with not having a vaccine for being inside a facility with so many people,” said Matthew Clay, one of the first vaccinated inmates in the county. “My bunkie actually had COVID several months ago.”

Since March 2020, the sheriff’s office tells 8 On Your Side 352 inmates tested positive for coronavirus and none of them passed away as a result of the virus.

“I’m not gonna say it wasn’t in the facility,” Gregory Johnson adding. “But when it did come into the facility (the sheriff) was quick to rectify that problem.”

Johnson said he wanted to make sure he got vaccinated before seeing his older sister who has underlying medical conditions.

“I think everyone if we can do our part if we can do that and also to show the minority community that there’s nothing wrong with taking the shot,” he said.

For Clay, having protection against the virus is a big relief before his release from jail.

“I should be getting out of here shortly. I was in the food industry. I was working as a cook. I believe that its a very good idea having that with customer service and everything else and make sure my family is protected,” Clay said.

A jailwide survey found that only 640 out of 2,897 inmates, about 22 percent, said they wanted to be vaccinated.

The Department of Health is reporting a single-day record of more than 192,000 vaccinations on Tuesday, the second day all adults in the state became eligible.