PORTLAND, Ore. — As the state works to get available COVID-19 vaccine shots into the arms of Oregonians as quickly as possible, a new group of people has become immediately eligible for the vaccine: inmates. A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the state to offer all inmates in Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities a COVID-19 vaccine as if they are in the state’s Phase 1a group, which is currently eligible to get the vaccine.
The ruling was in response to a class action lawsuit filed in January by the Oregon Justice Resource Center (OJRC), a nonprofit that addresses issues involving mass incarceration. OJRC filed the suit against Gov. Kate Brown and leaders at Oregon DOC. The lawsuit called for the immediate vaccination of all inmates.
Alice Lundell, director of communication with OJRC, said the order will help protect thousands of people who are at great risk of coronavirus infection.
“While many groups are rightfully anxious to receive the vaccine as soon as possible, it is undeniable that people in custody are at particular risk, as tragically proven by the thousands of cases and 42 deaths from COVID-19 in our prisons,” Lundell said. “A single day of Oregon's vaccine supply will be enough to protect everyone in custody. Judge Beckerman describes the state's response to COVID in ODOC facilities as 'ineffective' in reducing the spread among people in custody. We are grateful to the court for recognizing the necessity of providing the protection of vaccination as soon as possible to our clients and to everyone in prison. We look forward to hearing very shortly from the state about how it plans to roll out vaccination throughout all of ODOC's facilities."
Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Oregon Gov. Brown, said the state will not appeal the judge's ruling.
"With the court’s ruling requiring an accelerated timeline and making clear that vaccinations must be offered to adults in custody with Phase 1a prioritization, we will move ahead with a weekly approach that will integrate adults in custody into our Phase 1a distribution plans," Boyle said.
Boyle said the state does not anticipate that the adjustment will alter Oregon's timeline for beginning Phase 1b vaccinations, but noted that is dependent on the weekly vaccine supplies Oregon receives from the federal government.
According to Oregon DOC, 3,392 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 during the pandemic. That’s about one-quarter of the nearly 13,000 inmates in Oregon DOC facilities. Forty-two inmates have died after testing positive for the virus. Seven of the eight largest active COVID-19 workplace outbreaks in Oregon are at prisons.