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Providing vaccine to detained immigrants

January 13, 2021

Topics: Quote of the Day

By Nishant Uppal, Parsa Erfani, and Raquel Sofia Sandoval
STAT, January 12, 2021

Targeted vaccination efforts are essential in prisons and jails, where 90 of the 100 largest Covid-19 cluster outbreaks in the United States have occurred.

The spread of Covid-19 in ICE detention centers has also been rampant. On average, the monthly rate of cases in detention was 13.4 times higher than in the general population during the first five months of the pandemic. Yet ICE has been lax in implementing Covid-19 public health measures to protect detainees.

In collaboration with Physicians for Human Rights, we recently interviewed 50 formerly detained individuals. In this evaluation, published Jan. 12, those interviewed explained how ICE failed to comply with its own Covid-19 pandemic response requirements in at least 22 of its facilities — often denying detainees consistent access to soap, masks, and proper symptom-based testing and isolation.

We believe that, first and foremost, ICE should not be detaining individuals and that individuals who are currently detained should be released. But until that happens, the vaccine rollout is an opportunity for ICE to recognize that it is accountable for the health of detainees, who are at a similar risk level for Covid-19 as incarcerated individuals. They live in crowded, congregate facilities with limited social distancing, often sleeping only 3 feet from one another, as our interviews showed. Like incarcerated individuals, ICE detainees must be prioritized for Covid-19 vaccination.

The federal government must abide by its responsibility to detained migrants and spearhead a vaccine-distribution plan for all ICE detention facilities. Only by vaccinating the people most vulnerable to Covid-19 can we move closer towards an equitable post-pandemic future.

Nishant Uppal, Parsa Erfani, and Raquel Sofia Sandoval are students at Harvard Medical School, medical evaluators at the Harvard Student Human Rights Collaborative Asylum Clinic, and research associates at the Peeler Immigration Lab at Harvard Medical School.


Physicians for Human Rights: “Praying for Hand Soap and Masks”


By Don McCanne, M.D.

The rate of active cases of COVID-19 is 13.4 times higher for these detainees than it is for the general population. These are human beings. Of course we have to make available for them COVID-19 vaccine.

It is disappointing to see that most of the comments to the STAT article were dismissive, concentrating primarily on their immigrant status. But didn’t this land belong to the Native Americans, only to be cheated out of much of it by our ancestors? Admittedly, that is a different issue from being vaccinated during a pandemic, but isn’t their immigration status primarily a matter of timing?

Fortunately these Harvard medical students understand the differences and recognize that all of us should have our medical needs met.

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About the Commentator, Don McCanne

Don McCanne is a retired family practitioner who dedicated the 2nd phase of his career to speaking and writing extensively on single payer and related issues. He served as Physicians for a National Health Program president in 2002 and 2003, then as Senior Health Policy Fellow. For two decades, Don wrote "Quote of the Day", a daily health policy update which inspired HJM.

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