The Oregon Department of Corrections had offered COVID-19 vaccines to all its 13,200 inmates, the agency announced Wednesday.
More than 9,156 people in custody have received the vaccine, meaning the prison system has vaccinated 69% of its population with at least one dose.
Attorneys representing Oregon’s inmates say it’s among the quickest and broadest vaccine rollouts for incarcerated people in the country, though it wasn’t something state officials were planning to do on their own.
“This is great news,” said Juan Chavez, one of the civil attorneys who led a lawsuit to secure the vaccinations in prisons. “It shows how dire the situation was and is within the Oregon Department of Corrections.”
About 10% of Oregon’s prison inmates have been fully vaccinated. That number is expected to rise in the coming weeks as more people in custody get their second vaccine.
“I’m not aware of any other state that has reached 100% in terms of offering the vaccine to the people in the prisons,” said Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “Of course, the reason Oregon has achieve this is because of the lawsuit that was brought.”
For months, the prison system has struggled with the pandemic. More than 3,500 inmates in Oregon’s 14 prisons have contracted the virus. Of those, 42 have died, with 20 deaths in January alone.
Amid that toll, a group of inmates filed an emergency motion in federal court.
Early last month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman ordered state health officials to treat inmates like others in congregate settings and immediately offer inmates vaccinations.
Chavez said the Department of Corrections still needs to do more to increase the number of people in custody who take the vaccine.
“ODOC has to communicate better about the vaccine because rumors start in an information vacuum,” he said. “I heard from one person that all they knew about the vaccine they learned from the television. Thankfully what they heard was positive.”
On its website, the agency said it has communicated information about the vaccine “through educational materials” and inmates are “regularly encouraged to talk to a health care provider to address any questions” about getting vaccinated.
Kendrick said many states are not revealing information about vaccinations, but noted Massachusetts and Virginia have offered vaccines to roughly two-thirds of their prison populations. She said California has also vaccinated about 40,000 of its roughly 90,000 prison inmates.