Flu season typically starts in October and ends in May, but attorneys who visited Border Patrol stations in Texas in June reported flu and lice outbreaks at each facility they toured.
Immigration authorities have no plans to vaccinate children and families detained in Border Patrol stations — even after several children detained in these facilities died of the flu — CNBC reports.
Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees Border Patrol processing stations, told CNBC it typically doesn’t vaccinate the people detained in its facilities.
“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 our custody,” an agency spokesperson told CNBC. A CBP spokesperson told VICE News that the agency refers detainees who need vaccines “to the local health system.”
Doctors and immigrant advocates have urged the agency to start vaccinating its detainees in the wake of recent reports of migrants — including toddlers and babies — being detained for weeks in overcrowded Border Patrol stations, where disease outbreaks are common.
In August, doctors at Harvard and Johns Hopkins called for an investigation into CBP’s health care practices after six children died in the agency’s custody, three of whom died from the flu. Flu deaths, they wrote in a letter, “are fairly rare events for children living in the United States.”
“This rate of death from influenza appears to be substantially less than the rate in detention facilities, with at least three deaths in as many as 200,000 children detained — many for less than the length of the season," the doctors wrote wrote.
Flu season typically starts in October and ends in May, but attorneys who visited Border Patrol stations in Texas in June reported flu and lice outbreaks at each facility they toured. Hope Frye, an immigration attorney who led one of the site visits, told VICE News she caught Influenza A while interviewing detained children and had to be hospitalized.
“They are sleeping in concrete in a freezing place. They’re not being fed. They don’t have water and soap,” Frye said of the detained children at the time. “They don’t even have blankets, they have pieces of aluminum foil.”
Jonathan Winickoff, a doctor who signed on to the August 1 letter, told CNBC that unsanitary conditions in Border Patrol stations like open toilets and a lack of soap can help spread the flu.
“Flu deaths are particularly tragic in my opinion because they are almost always preventable with good public health measures,” Winickoff said. “A child might start out with flu but then die of another infection.”