Federal appeals court blocks Oregon inmates lawsuit against governor over COVID-19 vaccine administration News
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Federal appeals court blocks Oregon inmates lawsuit against governor over COVID-19 vaccine administration

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked on Thursday prison inmates’ lawsuit against Oregon Governor Kate Brown and others for putting the inmates on the lowest tier of priority for access to the COVID-19 vaccine. The court found that the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act immunized state officials and the vaccine administration from liability.

Immunity of the PREP Act took effect for the “manufacture, testing, development, distribution, administration, and use of covered countermeasures.” The court found that the actions the government took fell under such an immunity.

Brown, along with the other defendants, had previously moved to dismiss the suit in district court arguing that they were protected by the immunity provision in the PREP Act. Although the district court denied their motion in part, the district court found that all defendants—except Brown and Director of the Oregon Health Authority Patrick Allen—were immune from liability. The district court found that Brown and Allen were subject to liability considering that the two’s “fail[ure] to administer a covered countermeasure” allowed them to “be subject to immunity under certain circumstances.”

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic Brown was responsible for Oregon’s response to the pandemic. Oregon designated priority tiers to help the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. The governor designated prison inmates to “a lower priority vaccination tier than correctional officers.” The prisoners had then filed a class action lawsuit in response to that decision in April 2020.

Inmates filed suit against Brown and others for alleged damages they suffered as a result of their lower priority status. The inmates sought injunctive relief and damages alleging that prioritizing correctional officers ahead of them constituted a violation of the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. The court recognized that “[t]ragically, COVID-19 caused or contributed to the deaths of some inmates.” That said, the court found that this did not change the fact that the immunity provision of the PREP Act protected the defendants.