A Kern County judge on Wednesday blocked an order due to take effect this week that required California prison employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Judge Bernard Barmann issued a temporary restraining order that prevents enforcement of the vaccination mandate for guards and peace officers represented by a powerful union while the court weighs a request for a preliminary injunction, initially reported by the Sacramento Bee.
The public health mandate due to take effect Friday will still apply to other employees who work in prisons that have health care facilities.
It is aimed at heading off another coronavirus outbreak like one that killed 28 inmates and a correctional officer at San Quentin State Prison last year.
In total, the virus has killed 240 inmates and 39 prison employees since the start of the pandemic.
However, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association opposes mandates for its members. The group has a lot of influence with the state's Democratic Party-controlled political structure. It contributed $1.75 million to Gov. Gavin Newsom's successful fight against recall.
The lawsuit was filed in Kern County Superior Court on behalf of seven employees of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, three of whom work in local institutions.
According to court documents, those employees were correctional officers Jeremy Alexander and Brian Thoms, at Wasco State Prison, and Paul Godfrey, at Kern Valley State Prison.
All local plaintiffs, and all but one of the seven, have previously recovered from COVID-19, according to the lawsuit, and their lawyers argue they have developed natural immunity superior to that achieved by vaccination.
The lawsuit says the plaintiffs worry about the long-term side effects of the vaccine and wish to maintain "bodily autonomy and integrity to make informed medical decisions for themselves."
The one plaintiff who did not contract COVID-19 — Jason Ferrario, a correctional officer in CDCR's statewide transportation unit based in Galt — said he suffered a stroke nine days after receiving his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, which he attributes to the vaccine, according to the lawsuit.
Medical experts generally agree that people who have suffered from strokes are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
In his order, Barmann blocked vaccinations until Oct. 22, when a new hearing has been set.
Newsom has a reputation as one of the strongest proponents of vaccine mandates among state governors. His administration had ordered all state employees, including those in prisons, to be vaccinated or have regular COVID-19 testing.
Yet Newsom was opposed when last month a federal judge ordered that all employees entering California prisons be vaccinated or have a religious or medical exemption. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar did away with an option for prison employees to avoid vaccination and instead undergo frequent COVID-19 testing.
Newsom filed a notice Tuesday that the state plans to appeal that ruling, leaving it in limbo.
The Associated Press and Californian staff writer Sam Morgen contributed to this report.