Doctors Offer Flu Shots to Detained Migrants, Feds Say No

By Shani Saxon Nov 20, 2019

A group of doctors reached out to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in an effort to provide free flu vaccines to detained immigrants. The group is alarmed that the Trump administration “is denying flu vaccines to immigrants in custody,” which could have disastrous results, NBC News reports.

The physicians, all members of a new group called Doctors for Camp Closure (D4CC), sent a letter to DHS on November 5 asking the agency to stop denying detained migrants the flu shots they need. As NBC reports, at least three children detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is part of DHS, died from flu-related complications in 2018. 

D4CC members have offered to set up a free, mobile flu shot station at the CBP processing and detention facility in San Ysidro, California. “We implore you to allow our volunteer physicians to hold our requested influenza vaccine clinic,” the doctors said in their letter to DHS. 

But CBP denied the doctors’ request. A spokesperson from the agency responded to the letter with a statement obtained by NBC. "As a law enforcement agency and due to the short term nature of CBP holding and other logistical challenges, operating a vaccine program is not feasible," the spokesperson said.

Dr. Luz Contreras Arroyo, a member of D4CC, spoke to NBC about the potentially hazardous conditions that the agency could create. "This is how epidemics begin," he said. "It's not just migrants. Workers will come out to communities, potentially spreading that virus and it could get out of control." Arroyo also stressed the importance of remembering that detained migrants are not criminals. “Seeking asylum is not a crime," he said.

According to NBC, CBP isn’t supposed to hold anyone longer than 72 hours, but the agency typically detains people for far longer than that. 


Health care providers have protested longer detention periods for migrants, warning that children in particular would face more serious health risks with the extended incarcerations.

The doctors also wrote that detained children are nine times more likely to die from flu-related complications than other children. “In our professional medical opinion, this alarming mortality rate constitutes an emergency which threatens the safety of human lives, particularly children,” says the letter from D4CC. “As physicians, we have seen the effects of flu infections in the strongest as well as the most vulnerable, and the outcomes can be devastating.”