Judge orders Oregon to vaccinate prisoners before some seniors

The state of Oregon will offer coronavirus vaccines to prisoners before senior citizens after a federal judge ruled that inmates should be included in the state’s Phase 1A round of vaccinations.

A representative from Gov. Kate Brown’s office said the administration will not challenge the ruling.

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“The court’s decision is clear, and the state has decided not to appeal,” Charles Boyle, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, told The Oregonian in a Wednesday email.

The decision came in a lawsuit brought by the Oregon Justice Resource Center on behalf of seven inmates. Court documents said that as of Feb. 1, 3,392 adults in custody (AICs) had tested positive across 14 of the Oregon Department of Corrections’ 15 facilities – 27% of all inmates, according to The Oregonian – with 42 deaths.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman ruled that delaying their vaccinations violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, despite acknowledging that inmates and corrections staff “did not readily accept masking recommendations.”

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Beckerman pointed to how corrections’ staff were already included in Phase 1A. While the state claimed that this made more sense since staff members were a primary source of infections in corrections facilities and there are fewer of them to vaccinate, the court disagreed.

“Simply put, Defendants are well aware of the risks of serious harm to both correctional staff and AICs and have chosen to protect only the staff. This inaction indicates deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm,” Beckerman said.

According to the ruling, inmates at corrections facilities will be included in the Phase 1A group that already included residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

“This decision by the court will serve to protect thousands of Oregonians in prison and will come as a great relief to them and their loved ones,” the Oregon Justice Resource Center said, according to KDRV.

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All groups included in Phase 1A were already eligible for vaccines in late 2020. Certain individuals in Phase 1B, such as child care providers, as well as teachers and school staff in grades K-12, were eligible as of Jan. 25. The next Phase 1B group, people age 80 and above, will not be eligible until Feb. 8. Other senior citizens will not be eligible until later in February or early March. Seniors at care facilities covered by Phase 1A are already eligible.

Boyle said that while Phase 1A may now take longer to complete, Phase 1B is still expected to start on time. He qualified that, however, by noting that this is subject to the availability of supplies that the state gets from the federal government.