Gov’t agency stopping doctors from giving flu vaccinations to migrant kids

U.S. Customs and Border Protection
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection arm patch and badge is seen at Los Angeles International Airport, California February 20, 2014. |

The United States Customs & Border Protection agency is preventing doctors from giving migrant children vaccinations for influenza, according to a report by the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Wendy Fry of the Union-Tribune reported Monday that a group of about 40 doctors and others protested outside a detention facility in San Ysidro, California where they were barred from giving vaccinations to children at the site. The vaccination effort was prompted by the flu-related deaths of three children in federal immigration custody over the past year. 

The protesters demanded that either the CBP allow them to enter the detention facility to administer the flu vaccine or let the children briefly leave the facility to receive a vaccine.

The demonstration stemmed in part from a CBP letter sent out in November rejecting a request by doctors to give the flu vaccine to detained migrant youths.

“It has never been a CBP practice to administer vaccines and this not a new policy,” read the letter in part, as reported by the Union-Tribune.

“Individuals in CBP custody should generally not be held for longer than 72 hours in either CBP hold rooms or holding facilities … As a law enforcement agency, and due to the short-term nature of CBP holding and other logistical challenges, operating a vaccine program is not feasible.”

This response was echoed in an announcement made by CBP in August, in which the federal agency explained that "neither CBP nor its medical contractors administer vaccinations to those in our custody" due to "the short-term nature of CBP holding and the complexities of operating vaccination programs."

However, retired anesthesiologist Mario Mendoza told the newspaper that it would be a quick process to vaccinate the migrant children at the facility.

“We have the team here. We have the vaccines. It would not take 72 hours to do,” Mendoza told the Union-Tribune.

“What I can say is we are not leaving here until they let us enter. We are doctors. We are against death and we are for humanity.”

Mendoza argued that CBP was “passively letting children die from influenza, something that can easily be prevented.”

The Trump administration has often been criticized for its treatment of those who have entered the country illegally, especially migrant children.

This has included multiple reports that children being kept at detention facilities have been separated from families, denied basic hygienic needs, and other indignities.

In late June, a coalition of evangelical groups and leaders sent an open letter to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Congress calling for better treatment of children at detention centers.

“Jesus reserves some of his strongest words of judgment for those who subject children to harm,” read the letter in part.

“Overcrowded and unsanitary conditions are inappropriate for anyone in detention, but particularly for children, who are uniquely vulnerable.”

The conflict between the CBP and the doctors over flu vaccinations for migrant children comes as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported about 900 people in the United States have already died from flu-related illnesses over the past few weeks.

In addition to the 900 deaths, there have also been around 1.7 million flu illnesses and approximately 16,000 hospitalizations in what is believed to be the earliest onset of flu season since the winter of 2003-2004.

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