Oregon Prisons Begin Vaccinating Staff Against COVID-19

The corrections department says it has received enough doses of the Moderna Therapeutics vaccine to treat 400 people.

COVID-19 vaccine needles at OHSU. (Fritz Liedtke)

The Oregon Department of Corrections has begun vaccinating members of its staff against the coronavirus.

The department said Dec. 28 that it has received enough doses of the Moderna Therapeutics vaccine to treat 400 people. DOC did not specify how many of its approximately 4,600 employees have been vaccinated so far.

One of the first vaccine recipients was Dr. Warren Roberts, the chief medical director at DOC.

"Today, I received the first of two doses for my COVID-19 vaccination. I strongly encourage all DOC employees, the people we incarcerate, and the public to also get vaccinated as soon as it is available to them," Roberts said. "Some of the worst outbreaks in Oregon have been in institutional settings and this virus does not stay behind the prison walls, it seeps out into the surrounding community."

To date, more than 2,000 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 in Oregon. Twenty have died after testing positive for the virus. Another 536 staff have tested positive since the pandemic began, according to DOC's website.

Still, it remains unclear when Oregon inmates will receive the COVID vaccine. Earlier this month, Marco A. Hernandez, chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Oregon, urged federal courts to prioritize criminal defendants when distributing the vaccine.

"Vaccination, when available to detained defendants, will improve access to justice," Hernandez wrote in a Dec. 1 letter. "Vaccination will facilitate a defendant's participation in the justice system at a very basic level by allowing a defendant to meet with an attorney or appear for a proceeding without risking infection to [others]."

In a statement issued Monday, Roberts called it a "heroic act and an enormous step toward protecting the lives of all Americans" to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

"Even if you are skeptical, please consider those around you—your elderly parents, your neighbors, your community members who have underlying health conditions," Roberts said. "I encourage all Oregonians to get vaccinated and help us turn the tide."

Statewide, 20,297 people have received their first vaccine dose.

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