Oregon State Penitentiary (Courtesy/Wikimedia Commons)
Covid vaccinations for Oregon educators and seniors are expected to proceed as planned despite a federal judge ruling Tuesday that inoculations must be offered to people in prison, according to a spokesman for Gov. Kate Brown.
That ruling adds about 14,000 incarcerated people across 14 Oregon prisons to the current pool of over half a million health care workers, first-responders and educators who are already eligible to get a vaccine. About 168,000 Oregonians 80 and older will join the pool Feb. 8.
As of Feb. 3, 98,876 Oregonians had been fully vaccinated.
Charles Boyle, the governor’s spokesman, said in an email that as a result of the ruling, the state is moving forward with a weekly approach that will bring incarcerated people into the current vaccination phase. But the pace of vaccinations all depends on the weekly vaccine supply the state receives from the federal government, he said.
The vaccine is currently being offered to those who fall under phase 1a of the state’s vaccination schedule, which includes health care workers, first responders, residents of nursing and memory care facilities and those who work in correctional facilities. Educators and child care workers are also eligible.
Boyle said people in those groups should still be able to access the vaccine as planned.
“We do not anticipate that these adjustments will alter our timelines for beginning Phase 1b vaccinations, including vaccines for educators or seniors—however that is dependent on the weekly vaccine supplies we receive from the federal government,” he said in an email.
Limited vaccine supply has frustrated rollout efforts across the U.S. Health officials in Oregon cautioned last week it will likely take until early May before a “critical mass” of seniors are vaccinated.
Neither the Oregon Health Authority nor the Department of Corrections provided further details about how the vaccines will be administered in prisons and how the change will affect supply for other groups.
Covid has spread rapidly in prisons in Oregon and elsewhere because of the tight quarters. The Oregon Department of Corrections has reported that 3,392 incarcerated people have contracted the virus. It’s confirmed 42 deaths of prisoners who have tested positive for Covid.
In April, civil rights group Oregon Justice Resource Center brought a federal lawsuit on behalf of multiple prisoners against the department arguing that its response to the pandemic was inadequate and violated the constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
On Tuesday Judge Stacie Beckerman ruled that the vaccine must be made available to prisoners.
“Our constitutional rights are not suspended during a crisis,” Beckerman said in her ruling. “On the contrary, during difficult times we must remain the most vigilant to protect the constitutional rights of the powerless.”
Alice Lundell, spokeswoman for the Oregon Justice Resource Center, said in an email on Wednesday that it’s too soon to say when the vaccine will be rolled out to people in custody. But the ruling requires the vaccination to be rolled out promptly.
She said that the number of incarcerated individuals account for one day of the state’s vaccine supply.
“Operationally, we are prepared to offer and administer additional vaccines,” Corrections Department Director Colette Peters said in a statement. “We know vaccines will slow the spread of COVID-19 inside Oregon’s institutions for those in our care and custody, and in turn, protect our employees and Oregon communities.”
While prisoners won’t be required to take the vaccine, the judge’s ruling suggested they will be willing. The ruling pointed out that in January because of a miscommunication, the Department of Corrections accidentally offered vaccines to 1,558 prisoners over 60 or who had medical vulnerabilities. Of those, 68% accepted the vaccine. According to the ruling, only 34% of corrections staff and contractors have taken the vaccine, according to the ruling.
Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.
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