Court blocks California vaccination policy

Story Highlights California prisoners should be allowed to use vaccines that are following national guidelines

Proposed policy would prevent California inmates from receiving an autism vaccine

Other measures that would affect prisons — such as health monitoring and limited phone calls — will not be affected

By Tom Beaumont, CNN

This story has been updated.

A California court halted a state policy requiring prisons to allow vaccines against human papillomavirus and eight other diseases that are in line with a federal court’s guidelines.

The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel, issued in a June 26 ruling, followed a lawsuit filed by the Prison Law Office, an organization that represented more than 15,000 inmates and expressed “serious concerns” about the mandate.

“Contrary to the state’s misrepresentations, it is possible that the state would require the use of vaccines that are not within the guidelines of the federal court, and which could give rise to additional litigation,” wrote Superior Court Judge Kevin B. Correia Jr.

In addition to HPV, the eight diseases are also listed in the federal court’s reporting system as Influenza, Haemophilus influenzae type b, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, measles, and rubella — Hepatitis B and hepatitis C, according to the court. The state’s previous policy allowed for the use of all 12 of these vaccines.

The opinion also noted that other measures that would affect the approximately 132,000 inmates in California’s prisons would not be affected. The state already limits inmates’ contact with the outside world during working hours and bans visitors after 8 p.m.

But the federal court’s suggestion that prisoners not be denied access to the eight vaccines because they are not in line with its guidelines that include the unapproved ones “requires that the public’s welfare be taken over by the state’s discretion,” wrote Correia.

“This reasoning reflects a misunderstanding of the limits of a court’s authority, particularly when that authority exists to ensure the health of the state’s incarcerated populations,” wrote Correia.

The ruling ordered the State Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to “immediately suspend” the mandate.

In a statement issued on Tuesday night, the department said it had “until Friday to consider” whether to appeal.

“The regulations, if overturned, would make California’s prisons some of the only medical facilities in the country where unapproved vaccines could be used,” said the department’s statement.

The court determined that while there is not a clear-cut law for preventing prisoners from receiving vaccines that do not comply with strict regulations, the state is prohibited from forcing an inmate to undergo one that is not on the list.

“An individual incarcerated in California has not been able to elect a vaccine prior to entering state prison that is of vaccine-preventable risk based on that individual’s immigration status or state of health,” said the ruling.

The state plans to appeal the ruling.

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