A group of doctors, worried that the Trump administration is refusing influenza vaccines to detained immigrants, is calling on the Department of Homeland Security to accept its proposal for free flu shots for California inmates.
In a letter dated November 5, doctors asked the administration to reconsider their decision not to vaccinate detained migrants with the flu, despite the death of at least three children detained during CBP during the 2018 flu season.
Doctors, members of a newly formed group Closing Doctors, D4CC, proposed free introduction of a mobile influenza vaccine to the government in San Isidro, California, customs and border crossing.
“We are begging you to allow our volunteer doctors to keep our requested influenza vaccine clinic,” the doctors said in a letter.
Customs and border guards, which are part of National Security, did not accept the offer. A spokesman who did not want to be named due to agency policy said in a statement to NBC News that the agency had never used the vaccine, and people usually weren't in custody for very long.
“As a law enforcement agency and due to the short-term nature of the CBP holding and other logistical problems, the implementation of a vaccination program is not possible,” the representative said.
Although the CBP guidelines recommend that people be detained for no more than 72 hours, the agency has detained people for much longer, as the number of arriving asylum seekers has increased in the past and this year, although it has decreased since then.
In a letter dated November 5, to Kevin Makalinan, who was the acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, and Alex Azar, secretary of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the doctors said they would provide 100 doses of influenza vaccines and four volunteer doctors to administer them. Makalinen resigned, and Chad Wolf was appointed as the new acting secretary of DHS.
“This is how epidemics begin,” said Dr. Luz Contreras Arroyo, a member of the group and who signed the letter, told NBC News. “These are not just migrants. Workers will go out into the community, potentially spreading this virus, and it can get out of control. ”
“These are people too,” Arroyo added, referring to the detained families. “They are under the tutelage of the government, most of which have not committed crimes. Asylum is not a crime. ”
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The group set a deadline on Tuesday for the administration to respond before making the request public.
Doctors warn that migrants are not the only people facing the disease.
“The flu season has already begun in many parts of the country, so we are writing urgently,” the doctors said. “Many people, including those who work and live near CBP facilities, will be at even greater risk than usual.”
Doctors contributed money and raised more money from friends and others to pay for the cost of the vaccines. According to Arroyo, a family doctor and psychiatrist from Sacramento, doctors voluntarily spend time to provide vaccines.
Doctors said they also have an established network of volunteer doctors licensed to work in all states to get the necessary vaccines and work with CBP to “create a system to vaccinate most migrant families” in CBP custody.
They rely on government funding to help pay for the cost of vaccines throughout the system. If not, they will try to find another financing.
Doctors said that it is estimated that over the past two years, it is estimated that 200,000 children are in federal custody, three deaths of detained children due to complications from the flu are nine times higher than the expected mortality rate among children from the flu.
“In our professional medical opinion, this menacing mortality rate is an emergency that threatens the safety of human lives, especially children,” a letter signed by seven doctors said.
In August, the CBP announced that it would not vaccinate migrant families in its detention centers in anticipation of the flu season. At that time, the agency said in a statement that it had decided not to provide vaccinations because of the “short-term” immigrants' detention and the difficulty of implementing the vaccination program.
But Arroyo said the government was providing large-scale vaccinations and giving out large quantities of vaccines to prevent the spread of the disease and prevent epidemics. She said that it is cost-effective and less than the cost of hospitals and intensive care units for detainees, staff and residents when they become ill.
It is known that CBP chambers and mesh fences with concrete floors and storage rooms are very cold and often called hieleras, which translates as freezers or ice coolers to those who contain them, including young children.
Health workers protested longer periods of detention for migrants, warning that children, in particular, would face more serious health risks due to lengthy imprisonment.
Overcrowded conditions worsen risk
Doctors offering to work at the influenza vaccination clinic have noted overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in prisons by the DHS Inspector General.
This report found that children in some CBP facilities did not have access to showers, were not always able to change clothes, and that they had limited space for medical isolation. NBC News reports that a cell in El Paso for 155 people contained 155 adult men with one toilet and sink.
The outbreak of influenza at CBP McAllen affected nearly three dozen immigrants and called for a temporary suspension of operations.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that anyone over 6 months of age receive a flu vaccine by the end of October of the current flu season. Even the Citizenship and Immigration Services Policy Guidelines, which are part of the Department of Homeland Security, point out the CDC’s requirement that immigrants should get the flu shot.
“As doctors, we have seen the effects of influenza infections in both the strongest and most vulnerable groups, and the results can be devastating,” the doctors said.
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