Border patrol will not give flu shots to migrants in detention centers

Border patrol will not give flu shots to migrants in detention centers – despite three children dying of the virus in US custody since December

  • US Customs and Border Protection said on Tuesday it won’t be administering the flu shot to migrants
  • The agency said it’s because migrants are allegedly in detention centers for a short time and ‘operating vaccination programs’ is complex. 
  • Three children have died of the flu and flu-related complication while in CBP custody since December
  • Doctors fear the overcrowded and dirty facilities will lead to huge outbreaks 

The US government says it doesn’t plan on giving the flu shot to migrant families in detention despite three children dying from the virus while detained at the border.  

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a statement to CNBC that, typically, no vaccines are administered in any of its facilities.

‘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,’ a spokesperson said. 

Immigration advocates have reported that the detention centers are riddled with open toilets and a lack of soap and water – and doctors say such overcrowded and unsanitary conditions could easily lead to huge outbreaks.

US Customs and Border Protection said it won’t be administering vaccines because migrants are allegedly in detention centers for a short time. Pictured: Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, 8, from Guatemala died in December 2018 from the flu and a bacterial infection after he was apprehended by CBP officers

Since December at least three children have died, in part, from flu symptoms after they were held in detention centers following a crossing at the US-Mexico border.

One of those children is Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, an eight-year-old from Guatemala who died in December 2018 at a New Mexico hospital from the flu and a bacterial infection just six days after he and his father were apprehended by CBP officers.

Prior to this, the US had gone nearly a decade without any children dying while in CBP custody.

Earlier this month, several physicians wrote a letter to Reps Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and asked them to open a congressional investigate conditions at the detention centers.

According to the letter, one in 600,000 children die in the US each year from the flu.

But the three children who died are out of 200,000 people currently being detained at the border. 

‘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 letter read.

‘Another influenza season is around the corner…Timely action is critical.’ 

DeLauro and Roybal-Allard then wrote to Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Alex Azar, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and expressed concern about the ‘screening, treatment, isolation, and prevention protocols of infectious diseases’ at detention centers. 

Immigration officials told VICE News that in the centers, flu and lice outbreaks run rampant, children sleep in cold cells without blankets and there is no water and soap.

Doctors say this turns the border camps into a breeding ground for disease. 

 ‘I can tell you from personal experience that child deaths are rare events,’ Harvard pediatrics professor Dr Jonathan Winickoff, who cosigned the letter to DeLauro and Roybal-Allard, told CNBC. 

”Flu deaths are particularly tragic in my opinion because they are almost always preventable with good public health measures.’     

According to CBP officials, after children leave detention facilities, they are transferred to the HHS where they receive a physical, including vaccines.   

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone below six months old receive an annual flu shot.

It is estimated that in the 2018-19 season between 35,000 and 55,000 died of flu-related illnesses.

That’s still not as bad as the 2017-18 season, when an estimated 80,000 Americans died of the flu and its complication, making it the deadliest season in at least four decades.