Despite deaths and mumps outbreaks, doctors arrested and denied entry into detention camps to provide vaccinations

Protests have been ongoing this week after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) denied doctors’ requests to give flu vaccines to detained migrants. Three of the six children who have died under US custody died of the flu in overcrowded, unhygienic detention camps.

Despite the conditions and these deaths and warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), federal authorities prevented doctors from entering the premises to administer flu shots. Six doctors were arrested.

Doctors for Camp Closure, an organization that opposes the detention of migrants and refugees attempting to enter the United States, protested with upwards of 70 people, including physicians, outside the Chula Vista, California, facility Monday.

A History of Negligence by the US Government and CBP

A June report by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general that found inhumane, disease-prone conditions at the centers, with immigrants packed in standing-room-only areas with limited access to baths.

In August 2019, as reported by CBS News, doctors associated with Harvard and Johns Hopkins called for an investigation into health care at border facilities months ago in a letter to members of Congress. The letter came in response to the deaths of six migrant children either in government custody or soon after their release.

Later that same month, a report by the CDC detailed at least 931 cases of mumps at CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities . The CDC called for immediate reform of the camps and vaccinations.

“In general, due to the short-term nature of CBP holding and the complexities of operating vaccination programs, neither CBP nor its medical contractors administer vaccinations to those in custody,” a CDC spokesperson said in a statement. 

A spokesperson from ICE said, will administer flu vaccines, alongside other vaccines, when requested.

The request was given this week by Doctors for Camp Closures — and denied.

“This is intentional cruelty. People are needlessly suffering and dying. You can’t lock people up in inhumane conditions, watch them get sick, and then refuse them access to medical care,” said Marie DeLuca MD.

At least three of the children died from the flu, according to autopsies. The doctors wrote in their letter that flu deaths “are fairly rare events for children living in the United States.” That’s nine times the mortality rate of the general pediatric population, according to Doctors for Camp Closure.

The three children who have thus far died of the flu are:

Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2018:  8-year-old Felipe Alonzo
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April 2019: 2-year-old Wilmer Vasquez 
May 2019: 16-year-old Carlos Hernandez Vásquez, just a week before what would have been his 17th birthday

Several healthcare providers —supported by Doctors for Camp Closures (D4CC), Families Belong Together (FBT), and Never Again Action, as well as advocates, fellow physicians, and local community members— will continue rallying through this week to demand a meeting with CBP. They hope to discuss the urgent need for immigration officials to end their policy of denying detained migrants access to routine flu vaccinations.