The state's correctional employees say it's "ludicrous" they'll have to wait to get the vaccine after the inmates while advocates say it's important to reduce the spread of the deadly virus in congregant settings.By Meghan Schiller

HARRISBURG (KDKA) – One grandmother from Cranberry considered driving 8 hours to find a vaccine and now she’s learning state prison inmates will soon get the dose and some cash.

“I was at the point where I was going to drive all the way to North Carolina,” said Fran Nagy.

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It was total shock and frustration.

“It was shocking to hear what you said that they were going to be offered money,” Nagy said.

Her vaccine search consumed her for weeks, making her feel like a prisoner in her own home. She just landed her first dose and sent KDKA a selfie, but she’s not smiling after hearing inmates might soon pocket $25 for agreeing to get the vaccine she almost didn’t find.

“I don’t understand why they just don’t automatically make them take it,” said Nagy. “They have a captive audience.”

KDKA Investigator Meghan Schiller confirmed the state rolled out an inmate incentive program, using cash payments of $25 to encourage inmates to get vaccinated.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections says it’s a statewide inmate incentive and the money comes from the state’s inmate general welfare fund, which is not taxpayer-funded.

Meanwhile, the union representing the state’s nearly 11,000 correctional employees want to know, “how can inmates cut in line?”

“It’s absolutely ludicrous and I can’t even put words to it,” said John Eckenrode, Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association president.

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“We go into these settings — congregate setting — where it’s very hard to social distance and then at the end of the day, you go home, so we go home to our family members and we go back to the community,” said Eckenrode.

And that’s the very reason why prison advocate Claire Shubik-Richards wants the vaccine behind bars.

“All 23 state facilities and the majority of county facilities have had massive outbreaks of COVID,” said Shubik-Richards with the Pennsylvania Prison Society.

State data reflects the spread. As of Tuesday, a total of 500 inmates and 200 employees are sick right now. The virus already killed 100 inmates and four employees.

KDKA’s Meghan Schiller said, “Some are saying ‘why should we be paying criminals to get a vaccine that I can’t get myself?’”

To that, Shubik-Richards said, “If you care about your own personal safety and the safety of your family and the safety of the people in your community to be virus free, you really want congregate care settings to stop spreading the virus to stop compounding and accelerating the viral spread.”

Back in Cranberry, Nagy wants to see that, but she’ll take the cash as well.

“Hey if they want to give me 25 bucks, I’ll take it, but I think in prison — no,” she said.

Of the 23 state facilities across the commonwealth, Shubik-Richards said only three are actively vaccinating inmates. She said the remaining 20 have a large number of “older and medically frail inmates.”

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As it stands, Eckenrode tells KDKA the corrections employees going in and out of these facilities will have to wait “for months” until Phase 1B kicks into gear.

Meghan Schiller