Border Officials Don't Plan To Vaccinate Detained Migrants For Flu Despite Deaths

Concerned over the conditions at the detention centers, doctors urged lawmakers earlier this month to investigate the flu-related deaths of three children.
Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy, died in U.S. custody at a New Mexico hospital. An <a href="" target="_blank" role="link" class=" js-entry-link cet-internal-link" data-vars-item-name="autopsy showed he had the flu" data-vars-item-type="text" data-vars-unit-name="5d5c62abe4b0f667ed69e9c4" data-vars-unit-type="buzz_body" data-vars-target-content-id="" data-vars-target-content-type="buzz" data-vars-type="web_internal_link" data-vars-subunit-name="article_body" data-vars-subunit-type="component" data-vars-position-in-subunit="0">autopsy showed he had the flu</a>.
Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy, died in U.S. custody at a New Mexico hospital. An autopsy showed he had the flu.
Scott Olson via Getty Images

U.S. immigration officials do not plan to vaccinate any migrants in their custody, despite the flu-related deaths of three children this year, according to Customs and Border Protection.

Neither CBP nor its medical contractors administer vaccinations to migrants because of the allegedly short time in which migrants are in U.S. custody and the length of time it takes for the vaccines to be effective, a CBP spokesperson told HuffPost.

CBP has about 200 medical personnel working along the southwestern border to assist at detention centers, according to CBP. In 2018, 423 detainees in centers across the U.S. contracted the flu, according to a Reuters report in March.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccinations be given before the end of October for a flu season that typically peaks from December to February. CNBC was the first to report on Tuesday that CBP had decided not to pursue a vaccination program for its detention centers.

Earlier this month, doctors at Harvard, Johns Hopkins and other health care groups wrote a letter to two lawmakers urging Congress to investigate the conditions surrounding the deaths of six children who were detained by CBP after crossing the border.

In the letter, obtained by CBS News and The Washington Post, the doctors note that the flu was partly responsible for at least three of the deaths of children ages 2, 6 and 16, according to autopsy results.

The doctors said that flu-related deaths in children are “fairly rare events” in the U.S. and that children in detention centers are at higher risk of complications from the flu.

They suggested that poor conditions at the detention facilities may be “amplifying” the spread of the flu. The doctors also accused the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services of failing to follow best practices to treat and prevent the spread of the flu.

The doctors recommended that children who were older than 6 months should receive a flu vaccination.

Reps. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) forwarded the letter to DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar on Aug. 5, asking the officials to address the doctors’ concerns.

“Every single migrant in our government’s care must be kept safe & treated humanely,” Roybal-Allard tweeted in addition to the letter. “As DHS [House Appropriations Chairwoman], I am fighting to ensure [CBP] has the policies and resources it needs to meet this crucial goal, and to address public health concerns before they lead to tragedy.”

Detained migrants who have the flu while in custody may be diagnosed and treated on-site by CBP medical personnel or brought to a local health center for treatment.

Though CBP personnel don’t administer vaccinations, a detainee may receive a vaccination if a medical professional at a local facility determines it’s needed.

“Persons in our custody who require vaccination are referred to the local health system and may receive vaccinations by medical personnel at a local medical facility, if determined necessary by the medical professional during their assessment,” a CBP spokesperson said in a statement Tuesday to HuffPost.

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