Oregon says it will begin administering vaccines to inmates within the coming weeks.
A federal judge has ordered the Oregon Department of Corrections to immediately begin offering inmates COVID-19 vaccines.
According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, U.S. Magistrate Stacie Beckerman granted a temporary restraining order to the group of state inmates behind the lawsuit. While the detainees have requested more relief aside from easy access to coronavirus vaccines, Beckerman’s order will only compel the state to begin offering more opportunities for inoculation.
OPB notes that Beckerman’s ruling could affect more than 12,000 inmates, spread between Oregon’s dozen prisons.
“Defendants shall offer all [Adults in Custody] housed in [Oregon Department of Corrections] facilities, who have not been offered a COVID-19 vaccine, a COVID-19 vaccine,” Beckerman wrote.
Oregon, like many other states, has witnessed numerous—often uncontrolled—coronavirus outbreaks within its jails and prisons. Unable to socially distance, and usually lacking proper sanitary supplies, detainees usually cannot avoid infection.
The difficulties inherent to control infectious disease behind bars were acknowledged by Oregon Corrections Director, Collette Peters.
In a statement, Peters said coronavirus has posed novel challenges for the system, and that the disease’s mitigation has been “exceedingly difficult.”
“Operationally, we are prepared to offer and administer additional vaccines,” Peters said. “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.”
OPB notes that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Charles Boyle, a spokesperson for Brown’s office, said the state does not plan to appeal Beckman’s order.
“The court’s decision is clear,” Brown said. “We will move ahead with a weekly approach that will integrate adults in custody into our Phase 1a distribution plans.”
Boyle said that inmates will still be included in Phase 1a, which should commence after senior citizens and educators receive their first dosages of coronavirus vaccine.
“However,” Boyle said, “this is dependent on the weekly vaccine supplies we receive from the federal government.”
Juan Chavez, one of several attorneys advocating on the inmates’ behalf, said Beckman’s ruling—while appreciated—simply fixes a grave mistake that should never have been present to begin with.
“This is a potentially life-saving decision,” Chavez said. “It puts them at the same priority of people who live in congregate care facilities, like the Oregon State Hospital, nursing homes, assisted living facilities.”
Beckerman’s ruling, adds OPB, coincides with local, county-level decisions to begin vaccinating detainees in county jails.