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Oregon to begin vaccinating prisoners against COVID-19 after judge’s order

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Oregon will begin vaccinating its inmate populations against COVID-19 after a federal judge ruled Tuesday that the state’s prison population should be prioritized, Oregon Live reported.

The ruling bumps up prisoners into phase 1a, group 2 of the vaccine rollout, giving them the same priority access as those living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Previously, only correctional facility employees were included in this category, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

“Our constitutional rights are not suspended during a crisis,” Stacie Beckerman, a federal magistrate judge, wrote in her Tuesday opinion, The New York Times reported. “On the contrary, during difficult times we must remain the most vigilant to protect the constitutional rights of the powerless. Even when faced with limited resources, the state must fulfill its duty of protecting those in custody.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said she will not fight the order.

“The court’s decision is clear, and the state has decided not to appeal,” Charles Boyle, a spokesman for the governor’s office, told The Hill on Wednesday.

Boyle noted that the majority of inmates fell into phase 1b before the court order.

“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,” he said.

Boyle said the inclusion of the approximately 12,000 inmates is not predicted to influence vaccine distribution to others, including educators and seniors, but ultimately “that is dependent on the weekly vaccine supplies we receive from the federal government.”

Brown was previously criticized over her push to get educators vaccinated, prioritizing them over Oregon’s elderly, Fox News reported.

Brown defended her actions in a tweet, writing, “My decision to vaccinate Oregon’s educators, school staff and child care providers is simple: I’m using every tool we have to get our kids back in the classroom this school year.”

Brown previously vowed in a Jan. 27 tweet to have all 1a category citizens vaccinated by Feb. 8 — a deadline that appears to remain in place.

According to Oregon Live, 3,392 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded and 42 deaths have been confirmed in Oregon state prisons since the beginning of the pandemic.

Tags COVID-19 Kate Brown Oregon prisoners Vaccine
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