Healthcare Workers, Activists Demand Flu Shots for Detained Immigrants

CBP says “neither CBP nor its medical contractors administer vaccines to those in our custody”

A group of healthcare workers, activists and church leaders protested outside of the Chula Vista Border Patrol Station on Wednesday, demanding the federal government give immigrants detained at the facility flu shots or flu prevention packages.

“Together we stand for the protections of the basic principal that everyone should be allowed to have the human right to medical care,” said Pedro Rios, Director of American Friends Service Committee's U.S./Mexico Border Program.

Christian Ramirez, Policy Director for SEIU-USWW, said Wednesday’s event was started by a group of nurses who heard that a policy change had resulted in the end of flu shots being given to people in custody, including children. The nurses got together and gathered flu shots and flu kits to give to border patrol agents.

Outside of the facility, the group chanted “CBP, open up the gates.” The protesters wanted border patrol agents to open their facility gates to take the supplies they had gathered. In addition to flu kits, the group also brought care packages of sanitary items for women, men and children.

“In our line of work, we know that when a person’s access to healthcare is delayed, we know that it can be denied --and the result is death and to children that is unconscionable. For example, if a patient is told to wait one more day for treatment that can result in death. When flu shots are denied, that is not acceptable. It is not the standard of care that we, health care professionals, demand,” said Rosie Martinez, retired nurse.

In response to the protest, a spokesperson for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) gave NBC 7 the following statement:

“In general, neither CBP nor its medical contractors administer vaccines to those in our custody. This is due to the short-term stay of detainees in our custody, the time it takes for a vaccine to take effect, and the complexities of operating a vaccination program. Persons in our custody who require a vaccine are referred to the local-area health system and, if deemed necessary, will be vaccinated by medical personnel at that site. During situations that involve public-health concerns, CBP coordinates with local health-care authorities and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as appropriate.”

The protesters also claim three children allegedly died from the flu while at a detention center. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which oversees family residential centers, said there were no child deaths in ICE custody due to the flu.

The group was unsuccessful in giving the flu kits to agents at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station on Athey Street. The items were given to migrant shelters in Tijuana.

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