The appeals court will prevent the order from taking effect until an appeal can be scheduled.
A federal appeals court has blocked a California order that all of its state prisons employees be vaccinated against novel coronavirus or have a valid religious or medical exemption.
According to The Associated Press, a panel for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a request for a stay of a lower court’s September order, pending appeal.
The A.P. reports that a judge had earlier ordered that California prison workers be fully vaccinated against coronavirus.
The judge, says The Associated Press, was following the recommendations of a court-appointed receiver, who was selected to manage the state’s prisons system following a 2005 finding that California correctional facilities routinely failed to provide inmates with adequate medical care.
However, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar did not only direct corrections employees to get vaccinated or seek exemptions—he extended the same rule to any inmate who may request in-person visits, or who wishes to participate in work programs outside prison.
The Associated Press notes that, while the prisons vaccine mandate was supposed to have taken effect by January 12th, the appellate ruling will block its enforcement until March, when an appeals hearing can be scheduled.
The appeals panel will also accelerate proceedings, setting a December 13th for opening briefs to be filed.
However, some legal advocates have said that the 9th Circuit’s decision will put prisoners and prison workers in danger.
Don Specter, director of the non-profit Prison Law Office, said the appellate panel’s stay “puts both the prison staff and the incarcerated population at greater risk of infection.”
The Hill observes that California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, had opposed the vaccine mandate alongside the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
The Peace Officers Association—characterized by The Associated Press as “politically powerful”—had earlier said that a vaccination requirement could cause staffing shortages, if many corrections officers refused to comply or seek exemptions.
Tigar, says KCRA.com, had designed the original vaccination order to prevent an outbreak similar to the 2020 wave that left 28 inmates and a corrections officer dead at San Quentin State Prison.
“Once the virus enters the facility,” Tigar wrote, “it is very difficult to contain, and the dominant route by which it enters a prison is through infected staff.”
An estimated 50,000 state prisoners—comprising roughly half of California’s incarcerated population—have tested positive for coronavirus since the pandemic began in March 2020. Of those 50,000, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation estimates that at least 242 have died from the disease.