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Oregon inmates to start getting vaccinated on week of Feb. 8 following judge's ruling

More than 1,300 older and more vulnerable inmates have already been vaccinated.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Excited only begins to describe how Nellie Love is feeling. Her fiance, an inmate at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, is eligible to be vaccinated for COVID-19 immediately.

"I'm super excited about it," she said.

More than 1,300 older and more vulnerable inmates have already been vaccinated. 

On Tuesday, a federal judge ordered the state to offer a COVID-19 vaccine to all of the other inmates in Oregon Department of Corrections facilities.

"I'm happy and I think it's a step in the right direction," said Heather Bernhardt. 

Bernhardt's fiance, also incarcerated at Two Rivers Correctional Institution, is one of nearly 3,400 inmates across Oregon to test positive for the virus.

"He got horrible, horrible headaches," she said. "He did have a couple scary nights where he was struggling to breathe a little bit."

Credit: Heather Bernhardt
Heather Bernhardt's fiance (pictured here) tested positive for COVID-19 in early January.

While Bernhardt is relieved to know vaccines are on the way, she is skeptical of how efficiently they will be administered.

"I don't trust DOC as far as I can throw them right now."

As you might imagine, vaccinating inmates does not come without controversy. Some call the judge's ruling unfair and unreal. The attorney who advocated for the inmates says they deserve to receive the vaccine.

"Over 50% of the folks are living within dormitory housing in the DOC," said Juan Chavez of Oregon Justice Resource Center. "That's a recipe for disease spread."

Love and her fiancé understand. The two have not seen each other in almost a year because of COVID-19 protocols in the prison. A vaccine may be the first step toward a reunion.

"Fingers crossed we can get this past us," said Love.

KGW has learned Gov. Kate Brown's office directed 5,000 vaccines to the prison system. Vaccination clinics will start the week of Feb. 8. Another 5,000 vaccines should arrive the following week.

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