FILE — Oregon jail cell

This July 1, 2016 photo shows a jail cell inside the decades-old Crook County Jail in Prineville, Oregon.

(The Center Square) — Four hundred people living and working at the Oregon Department of Corrections facilities received their first doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine on Monday after months of outbreaks.

In a statement, DOC officials said vaccinations were given to staff in close contact with COVID-19 inpatients or infectious materials. Such staff members included nurses, transportation workers, and security staff working in COVID-19 infirmary units.

A "small number" of adult inmates who clean and disinfect COVID-19 units also received their first doses of the vaccine.

The DOC's statement did not break down how many doses were given to each group of first vaccine recipients.

Like the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer, the vaccine from Moderna is administered through two doses three weeks apart and is expected to provide about a year of protection starting a week after the second dose.

Based on medical data it submitted to the FDA, Moderna's vaccine is presumed to be 95% effective against the virus much like Pfizer's vaccine.

Among those first inoculated at the department was DOC Chief Medical Director Dr. Warren Roberts, who encouraged every Oregonian to get vaccinated as soon as they are able.

"Again, I encourage all Oregonians to get vaccinated and help us turn the tide," Roberts said. "Even if you are skeptical, please consider those around you – your elderly parents, your neighbors, your community members who have underlying health conditions. We have all made sacrifices this year, but getting the vaccine is a heroic act and an enormous step toward protecting the lives of all Americans.” 

The DOC has seen hundreds of inmates and staff come down with the virus this year and faces a lawsuit alleging it did not do enough to stop the spread of the pandemic.

Gov. Kate Brown has ordered hundreds of early releases for inmates deemed medically vulnerable to COVID-19 due to age or physical condition since earlier this summer. 

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported on Monday that 20,298 Oregonians have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose. Those first doses amount to just 15% of the vaccine shipments the state has reported receiving.

A Bloomberg report pegged Oregon's vaccine rollout as the third slowest in the nation just ahead of Ohio and Maryland which have used 14.3% and 10.9% of their vaccine shipments, respectively. 

Patients who take their second dose long after the recommended three-week window are expected to receive protection, but at unknown amounts, according to the CDC.

Those vaccines must be used quickly according to OHA officials, who say the Pfizer vaccine must be used after 20 days of being removed from its cold-storage  packaging. The CDC does not recommend taking doses from different COVID-19 vaccines.

Dr. Joe Sullivan, a public health advisor with the OHA, estimated last week that the state could administer as many as 100,000 first doses by mid-January.

Under Oregon's Phase 1a, the state is prioritizing frontline health care workers, essential government employees, and long-term care facility residents and staff for vaccinations.

Brown, who has yet to receive a vaccine herself, said last week that Oregon school teachers will get priority status for the next round of vaccinations. The state has not specified when that next round might begin.

So far, Oregon has received 59,475 doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine and 72,100 doses from Moderna—or 131,575 vaccine doses total.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.