(CN) — A Ninth Circuit panel on Monday overturned a federal judge’s order requiring all prison staff in California to get vaccinated against Covid-19, a mandate that had been opposed by the state government and the politically powerful prison guards’ union.
The San Francisco-based appellate court on Monday agreed with the state and the union that California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s failure to implement a vaccine requirement for all prison staff, as opposed to only those working in a health care setting, didn’t amount to deliberate indifference to inmates’ serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
The department’s Covid-19 vaccination policy wasn’t deliberately indifferent, the appellate panel said, because CDCR took significant action to address the health risks posed by Covid-19, including making vaccines and booster doses available to prisoners and correctional staff, enacting policies to encourage and facilitate staff and prisoner vaccination, requiring staff to wear personal protective equipment, and ensuring unvaccinated staff members regularly test for Covid-19.
“A decision to adopt an approach that is not the most medically efficacious does not itself establish deliberate indifference,” the panel found in a per curiam memorandum. “And the record does not include evidence demonstrating how much more effective a vaccine mandate would be compared to defendants’ existing measures to mitigate the introduction and spread of Covid-19 in a custodial environment, nor is it clear from the record that this is an unquantifiable figure.”
This past September, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar ordered the state to carry out a court-appointed receiver’s recommendation that all prison staff be vaccinated. The Barack Obama appointee is overseeing a two-decade class action over inadequate medical care and prison overcrowding, and issued the vaccination mandate at the request of a federal receiver appointed to manage the prison health care system.
In December, the Ninth Circuit temporarily blocked the mandate from taking effect by Jan. 12 as Tigar had ordered until it could hear oral arguments.
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