Ore. DOC begins vaccinating staff; limited number of inmates to get doses
The state prison system has been hit hard by the virus, with outbreaks in numerous facilities across the state
By Kale Williams
PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Corrections has vaccinated at least 400 of its staff at prisons across the state and could begin administering doses to a limited number of inmates as soon as next week, officials said Friday.
The department received an initial allotment of 400 doses in late December, said spokeswoman Vanessa Vanderzee, and all were administered by the end of 2020 to staff members who came in close contact with COVID-19 positive inmates.
A limited group of inmates who also come into contact with infected people will be eligible for the next round of vaccines, Vanderzee said, though she did not say exactly how many people would be in that group because that number is still in flux. The end result will likely be vaccinations for between 10 and 40 inmates at each of the state’s six largest prisons.
The state prison system in Oregon has been hit hard by the virus, with outbreaks in numerous facilities across the state. The Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla County has had 220 new cases diagnosed since Jan. 2 and inmates there have described feeling “helpless” to protect themselves against the virus.
Two Rivers is just one of five prisons in the state that are considered to be at the highest risk level designated by the state for correctional institutions.
Problems have been present since the beginning of the pandemic, and a group of inmates and former-inmates in April sued the department, along with Gov. Kate Brown and a number of other state officials, alleging that the defendants failed to protect prisoners from the spread of the coronavirus. In December, a judge ruled the suit could proceed, marking the first time a judge found that state leaders can face liability claims if they didn’t carry out safety measures according to policies adopted to stem the tide of COVID-19.
Brown and other state officials have now decided to include inmates among those who are next in line for the vaccine in phase 1b, a spokesman said. Prisoners and teachers will be among the first vaccinated after health care workers, long-term care residents and others designated in phase 1a.
Vanderzee said that, per public health guidelines, inmates in general population will be eligible for the vaccine in the next phase of the rollout, though it will be up to the state’s Vaccine Advisory Committee exactly when their turn will come up.
(c)2021 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)