A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all California prison workers to get vaccinated against the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus unless they have a religious or medical exemption.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals approved a request for a stay, or temporary stop, of the order on Nov. 26, pending appeal. The vaccination mandate was set to go into effect on Jan. 12, but the stay blocks it from being enforced until March.
The appeals court’s decision came after a request for a stay of a September ruling by a lower court pending an appeal. The appeals court also sped up the hearing process by setting a Dec. 13 deadline for opening briefs.
U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar was the judge who issued the vaccination mandate to get thousands of prison workers vaccinated.
The judge was following the recommendation of a court-appointed receiver who was chosen to manage the state prison health care system after a federal judge in 2005 found that California had failed to provide adequate medical care to prisoners.
Tigar’s mandate would require that all correctional officers and staff entering all 34 of California’s prisons be vaccinated. It would also require prisoners to get either the vaccine or a medical or religious exemption in order to do work outside of the prison or receive in-prison visits from family.
“Once the virus enters a facility, it is very difficult to contain, and the dominant route by which it enters a prison is through infected staff,” the judge wrote in his order.
“All agree that a mandatory staff vaccination policy would lower the risk of preventable death and serious medical consequences among incarcerated persons. And no one has identified any remedy that will produce anything close to the same benefit.”
However, the mandate was challenged by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), who argued that it could lead to staff shortages if employees refused to get the vaccine.
In court filings (pdf), CCPOA stated that “some of its members will face irreparable harm absent a stay because they will be forced to choose between maintaining their employment or taking a vaccine that they do not want.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, joined the state’s prison agency in appealing the order, despite his administration previously ordering vaccinations or testing for all state employees, including those working in correctional facilities.
Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office, said the court’s decision “puts both the prison staff and the incarcerated population at greater risk of infection.”
Approximately 51,634 California state prisoners have had COVID-19 since the pandemic began and at least 242 have died, according to data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Representatives for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time. Attempts to contact Newsom’s office and the Prison Law Office were unsuccessful.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.