Migrants in US border detention centers won’t receive flu vaccine

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U.S. immigration authorities do not vaccinate migrants in custody against the flu virus, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) does not have any plans to do so ahead of the upcoming flu season.

“In general, due to the short term nature of CBP holding and the complexities of operating vaccination programs, neither CBP nor its medical contractors administer vaccinations to those in our custody,” an agency spokeswoman told The Hill in an emailed statement.  

Earlier this month, two top House Democrats wrote to CBP as well as to the Department of Health and Human Services, raising concerns over the spread of influenza in detention centers after at least three children died in U.S. custody, in part, as a result of the flu.{mosads}

Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) sent the agencies a letter from several Harvard and Johns Hopkins doctors, who asked for a congressional investigation into health conditions at border patrol facilities.

“These tragic deaths appear to represent more than half of child deaths in the last year in these immigration facilities and to reflect a rate of influenza death substantially higher than that in the general population,” the doctors wrote. “Another influenza season is around the corner. … Timely action is critical.”

The vaccination policy was first reported by CNBC. 

DeLauro and Roybal-Allard said they agreed with the doctors’ concerns, and asked for responses from the agencies to specific questions by Aug. 30

Once children leave CBP detention centers and are transferred to HHS, they are given full medical screenings upon arrival, as well as any needed vaccinations, including the seasonal flu vaccine, an agency spokesperson said.

The CDC recommends annual flu shots for everyone more than 6 months old.

But the transfers out of CBP custody may not happen immediately, and children have been held in overcrowded conditions that make it easy for infectious diseases to spread quickly among those who are not vaccinated. 

A recent Homeland Security watchdog report warned against “dangerous overcrowding” and “prolonged detention” at border detention facilities in the Rio Grande Valley.

Border Patrol was holding about 8,000 detainees in custody, with 3,400 held longer than the three days generally permitted under law. Of those 3,400 detainees, Border Patrol held 1,500 for more than 10 days, the report found. 

According to the CBP spokeswoman, the agency has expanded its medical staff and now has approximately 200 medical personnel engaged along the southwestern border. In addition, the spokeswoman said most of the facilities in the highest volume sectors (like the Rio Grande Valley) have “24/7 medical support available on site.”

According to CBP, those in agency custody who require vaccinations “are referred to the local health system and may receive vaccinations by medical personnel at a local medical facility, if determined necessary” during an initial assessment. Children receive more detailed assessments.  

However, the doctors who sent the letter to DeLauro and Roybal-Allard said an increase in medical staff is not enough, and CBP needs to provide vaccinations. 

“Some of the children stayed in CBP custody for much more than a few days,” Joshua Sharfstein, a professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said in an email. “More generally, CBP should give necessary care to children to protect them as quickly as possible.  The vaccine takes up to a couple weeks to be effective. That’s why the sooner it is given, the better.”

Tags Flu season Immigration Lucille Roybal-Allard Rosa DeLauro Vaccination

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