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Judge orders Oregon inmates to be prioritized for vaccine

February 4, 2021 GMT

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A judge has ordered all inmates in the Oregon prison system to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations — a move that should make prisoners immediately eligible for inoculation.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the preliminary injunction issued Tuesday orders all Oregon Department of Corrections inmates be offered a vaccine as part of phase 1A, group 2, of Oregon’s COVID-19 vaccination plan — putting prison inmates in the same category as people living in nursing homes and other congregate care settings.

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The order should make prisoners eligible for vaccines now, but it’s not clear if they’ll move ahead of teachers or the elderly. But given that the Oregon Health Authority dictates where vaccines are shipped, the state has the ability to redirect doses for prisons.

“This will save an incredible amount of lives,” said Juan Chavez, an Oregon Justice Resource Center attorney who is representing a group of seven inmates.

The order will allow adults in custody to “stand in the same line” as others in congregate living facilities with a high risk of COVID-19 infection, Chavez said.

In her ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman noted state officials had prioritized residents of other types of congregate care settings, such as nursing homes, but bypassed inmates, despite widespread COVID-19 outbreaks in the state’s prisons.

Gov. Kate Brown’s office said Wednesday Oregon will soon begin offering COVID-19 vaccinations to as many as 11,000 inmates in the state’s prisons but says that shouldn’t affect when other Oregonians receive their shots.

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