A group of doctors, concerned about the Trump administration denying influenza vaccine to immigrant detainees, is calling on the Department of Homeland Security to accept its offer to provide free flu shots to prisoners in California.
In a November 5 letter, doctors asked the administration to reconsider its decision not to vaccinate influenza detained immigrants despite the deaths of at least three children in CBP custody during the 2018 flu season.
The doctors, members of a newly formed group Doctors for the camp, D4CC, has offered to introduce a mobile influenza vaccine at no cost to the government at San Ysidro, California, the Customs and Border Protection treatment and detention facility.
"We ask that you let our volunteer doctors keep our requested flu vaccine clinic," the doctors said in the letter.
Customs and Border Protection, which is part of Homeland Security, did not accept the offer. A spokesman who did not want to be named because of agency policy said in a statement emailed to NBC News that the agency has never administered vaccines and that people are usually not kept in storage for very long.
"As a law enforcement agency and because of the short-term nature of CBP holdings and other logistical challenges, it is not possible to run a vaccine program," the spokesman said.
Although CBP guidelines recommend that people be detained for no longer than 72 hours, the agency has kept people far longer as arrivals of migrants seeking asylum picked last year and this year, though they have since fallen.
In a Nov. 5 letter to Kevin McAleenan, acting chief of the Department of Homeland Security and Alex Azar, Health and Human Services Secretary, doctors said they would give 100 doses of the flu vaccines and four volunteer doctors to administer them. McAleenan resigned and Chad Wolf was appointed new DHS acting secretary.
"This is how epidemics begin," Dr. Luz Contreras Arroyo, a member of the group and signed the letter, to NBC News. "It's not just migrants. Workers come out to communities and potentially spread that virus and it can get out of control."
"These are people, too," Arroyo added, talking about the detained families. "They are under the government's hand, most have not committed crimes. Seeking asylum is not a crime."
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The group had set a deadline on Tuesday for the administration to respond before the publication of the request.
The doctors warned that migrants are not the only people at risk of illness.
"The flu season has already begun in many parts of the country, so we are writing in a hurry," the doctors noted. "Many people, including those who work and live near CBP facilities, will be at even higher risk than is typical."
The doctors contributed money and collected more from friends and others to pay for the costs of the vaccines. Doctors volunteer their time to get the pictures, says Arroyo, a doctor and psychiatrist in the Sacramento family.
The doctors said they also have an established voluntary network of doctors licensed to work in all states to get the necessary vaccines and work with CBP to "create a system to ensure the majority of migrant families" held in CBP custody. vaccinated.
They are hoping for state funding to help pay the cost of vaccines worldwide. If not, they will try to find other financing.
Doctors said that based on an estimated 200,000 federal child custody cases over the past two years, the three deaths for detained children are attributed to complications from the flu nine times higher than the expected death rate for children from the flu.
"In our professional medical opinion, this worrying mortality rate is an emergency that threatens people's lives, especially children," says the letter signed by seven doctors.
In August, CBP announced that they would not vaccinate migrant families in their facility centers before the flu season. At the time, the agency said in a statement that it chose not to provide the vaccinations because of the "short-term" stays for immigrants in custody and the complexity of running a vaccination program.
But Arroyo said the government has done extensive vaccinations in the past and has issued large quantities of vaccines to prevent the spread of disease and prevent epidemics. She said it is cost-effective and less than the costs for hospitals and ICUs for prisoners, staff and residents when they get sick.
CBP cells and pens of the chain link fence with concrete floors and cavities are known to be very cold and are often called helter, which translates to freezer or ice box, by those kept in them, which includes infants.
Healthcare providers have protested longer detention periods for migrants and warned that children, in particular, would suffer from more serious health risks with the long prisons.
Overcrowded conditions exacerbate the risk
The doctors who offered to run the flu vaccination clinic noted the findings of overcrowded and unhygienic conditions at detention facilities by the DHS Office of General Inspector.
That report found that children in some CBP facilities did not have access to showers, did not always have the opportunity to change clothes, and that they had limited room for medical isolation. In an El Paso facility, a cell containing 35,155 adult men contained only one toilet and sink, NBC News reported.
An influenza outbreak at the CBP McAllen plant affected nearly three dozen immigrants and required a temporary shutdown.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that all people over 6 months receive a flu vaccine at the end of October for the current flu season. The Citizenship and Immigration Services Policy Manual, part of the Homeland Security Department, also notes the CDC requirement that immigrants be vaccinated against influenza.
"As doctors, we have seen the effects of influenza infections on both the strongest and most vulnerable, and the results can be devastating," the doctors noted.
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