As the Medical Director for the Oregon Department of Corrections, I want to take a moment to update you on our vaccination efforts inside Oregon’s prisons. As many of you know, the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) has been working hard to administer doses of COVID-19 vaccine to all adults in custody (AICs) who are willing and able to be vaccinated. On February 27, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Since then, DOC has started to receive doses of the J&J vaccine for AICs.
The J&J shot is based on a different technology than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Those use mRNA, or messenger RNA, to deliver parts of genetic code to cells as a sort of instruction sheet. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is what is known as a viral vector vaccine; it uses the same technology that has been proven safe and effective in creating an Ebola vaccine. The J&J vaccine is administered in a single dose—no need for a second shot.
On March 31, 2021, I visited AICs at Oregon State Correctional Institution alongside professionals from the Oregon Health Authority, DOC’s Health Services team, and institution Health Services staff. Our mission was to meet with those AICs who previously declined the vaccine and identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or as a Person of Color (BIPOC) or racial minority. We listened to their concerns, answered questions, and offered the new J&J vaccine to anyone who was interested.
Unfortunately, our Oregon communities and our institutions have both seen less vaccinations among people who identify as BIPOC—even though these individuals have been the most severely impacted by the COVID-19 virus. We believe everyone inside our institutions deserves to be protected from COVID-19 and getting vaccinated is a great way to do that. I am happy to report that I received the vaccine December 28, 2020 and have been doing well.
The best vaccine is the one you can get—and all three vaccines are extremely effective at protecting you from hospitalization and death from COVID-19. However, we are committed to hearing your concerns and doing what we can to accommodate. The most important thing we can do is vaccinate as many staff and AICs as possible to keep our institutions safe and return to normal operations. Please reach out to Health Services with your questions.