COVID vaccinating prisoners a ‘public health decision’


3400 positive cases among more than 12,000 prisoners

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — “This is a public health decision, not a criminal justice decision.”

That’s what Dr. Warren Roberts with the Oregon Department of Corrections said about the ruling by a federal judge to administer COVID vaccines to the state’s 12,000 prisoners now. The DOC will get 5000 doses per week of the vaccine for the prison population until they’re all vaccinated.

“We are statutorially bound to address the health care needs of our patients,” he said.

Colette Peters, the DOC director, said Judge Beckerman’s order was clear: “The majority of adults who had previously been slated for Phase 1B vaccination, as Dr. (Patrick) Allen mentioned earlier, are now ordered to be in Phase 1A.”

An Oregon prisoner (KOIN, file)

The Oregon DOC said there have been more than 3400 confirmed positive cases of COVID for adults in custody. Another 807 DOC team members contracted the virus — and 42 people have died.

Governor Kate Brown’s office announced Wednesday they will not appeal the ruling and will begin administering the vaccines to the prisoners.

“ODOC has approximately 4600 staff and contractors and approximately 13,000 AIC’s,” Roberts said. “Because we are providing the 2-dose Moderna vaccine, we would need around 35,000 doses.”

An Oregon prison (KOIN, file)

He added he believes the vaccination of prisoners will help stop the spread of disease, both behind bars and in the greater community.

“I’ve seen first hand the epidemic in the prison setting and know we need to fight back with all tools available,” he said. “Some of the worst outbreaks in Oregon have been in institutional settings and this virus does not stay behind prison walls.”

The most vulnerable inmates will be prioritized during the initial rollout, he said, and they will track the prisoners who opt out. They’ll circle back with them to answer any questions or address any concerns or hesitancy over the vaccine.

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