Border Detention Centers Will Not Give Vaccines Despite Flu Deaths and Possible US Events

Failure to offer vaccinations to migrants held at border facilities could lead to more outbreaks and deaths from the flu.

Failure to offer vaccinations to migrants held at border facilities could lead to more outbreaks and deaths from the flu. (US Air Force Photo / Airman 1st Class Jonathan Koob /)

Customs and border patrols will not provide flu vaccinations to migrants detained at border facilities, according to an official statement sent to CNBC this week. The decision came even if at least three children died of the flu while being held by the agency despite the outbreak in May in a Texas detention center.

"This contradicts basic public health practice," says Paul Spiegel, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Human Health. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that those over the age of six months receive the flu vaccine, and in hygienic and crowded conditions, such as those reported in camps across the border, the flu can pass from person to person faster than less irritated. areas.

Children at these facilities could be at particular risk of influenza, says Sandra Quinn, chair of the family science department at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. "These kids are under tremendous pressure. Their immune systems may not be able to fight the way they would if they were given good food and care and decent sleep," he says.

People held in detention facilities should have the same preventive health care that is common in the country where the facilities are located, Spiegel says. In the United States, this would mean providing vaccines against the flu in accordance with CDC recommendations and taking additional measures to offer shots to people who may be suffering from additional complications, such as children, the elderly or people with other health conditions. situations. Failure to provide the vaccine could lead to more outbreaks and more deaths from the flu, which are rarely the case, he says.

The flu vaccine, Quinn says, is a key step that could be taken to protect the health of people in these facilities and those around them. "If we don't take the simple, fundamental steps, we need to ask ourselves how well we are doing in the larger health issues."

However, despite strong condemnation from CBP's medical doctors, it is no surprise that Roberto Potter, who is studying criminal justice and public health at the University of Central Florida, says these facilities do not offer flu vaccinations. Most prisons and prisons in the United States do not offer influenza vaccines or offer them only to high-risk individuals, such as the elderly or those with other underlying conditions. The medical care provided at any detention facility in the United States will usually be just what is adequate and responsive to problems – not preventive. "Preventive care is no guarantee at any detention center," he says.

This is despite guidelines from the Federal Bureau of Prisons that establishments must comply with the CDC's recommendations for vaccines against influenza. Low access to vaccines in prisons and prisons, which also face overcrowding, unhealthy conditions and complex health needs, has led to regular events, some of which lead to death.

During the swine flu pandemic in 2009, for example, more than half of US prisons did not receive vaccine doses, according to a CDC report. In Maine, two rehabilitation facilities with less than 10% of vaccinated people had influenza outbreaks in 2011. A 2018 Oregon outbreak of the flu resulted in the death of a woman and only 18% of those detained in that state. installation had received the flu vaccine. During another 2018 outbreak in two Texas prisons, a spokesman said the vaccines were only offered to those who were considered high risk, despite CDC recommendations saying this was not enough.

Some facilities recognize the importance of vaccinations and have strong public health policies, but policies and practices vary widely, and some do not, says Tyler Winkelman, a health policy researcher at the Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute justice and health. "I would say the standards in some immigration facilities are rather similar to some other detention facilities we already have here," he says.

If the CBP processes and releases migrants as expected, Potter says he would expect similar patterns of influenza and circulation at facilities in and around prisons, where the average stay is approximately 48 hours. "In prisons, people could come with a period of influenza, get through it and if you release people who are sick, they could spill into the community," he says. In a migrant detention center with a circulating influenza virus that is not adequately treated, people could come in and get sick and then carry the disease with them.

"If you don't pay attention to it, you put them at risk and you also put your staff at risk," Potter says. "And the staff is taking these things home and putting their families at risk. And putting schools and other people at risk."