Federal Government Won’t Provide Flu Vaccine To Migrants Held In Border Facilities

The Trump Administration has apparently decided that it will not be providing the flu vaccine to migrants being held in facilities at the southern border.

Continuing what can only be described as a pattern of outrageous neglect aimed at people who are being held in camps at the southern border pending resolution of their asylum claims, the Federal Government is now saying it will not provide the flu vaccine to these migrants, seemingly guaranteeing a potential pandemic for people already living in inhumane conditions:

The U.S. won’t be vaccinating migrant families in holding centers ahead of this year’s flu season, despite calls from doctors to boost efforts to fight the infection that’s killed at least three children at detention facilities in the past year.

“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,” a Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

At least three children who were held in detention centers after crossing into the U.S. from Mexico have died in recent months, in part, from the flu, according to a letter to Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., from several doctors urging Congress to investigate health conditions at the centers.

The U.S. had previously gone almost a decade without any children dying while under U.S. immigration custody.

“I can tell you from personal experience that child deaths are rare events,” Harvard pediatrics professor Dr. Jonathan Winickoff said in an email. Winickoff, who is also the director of pediatric research for Harvard’s Tobacco Research and Treatment Center, signed on to the Aug. 1 letter with forensic pathologist Judy Melinek and Johns Hopkins public health professors Dr. Joshua Sharfstein and Dr. Paul Spiegel.

They said the U.S. death rate in children from the flu is about one in 600,000. So far, three children have died out of 200,000 people held at detention facilities along the border, they wrote.

“When I learned that multiple children had died in detention from potentially preventable causes, it truly disturbed me,” Winickoff said. “The country needs urgent answers to that question so that children stop dying in detention.”

Winickoff said that current holding conditions, like being placed in close proximity to other immigrants, make it easy to spread infectious diseases from person to person. He added that contracting the flu weakens a child’s immune system, making it harder to fight off other illnesses.

“A child might start out with flu but then die of another infection,” he added.

If conditions don’t improve, Dr. Julie Linton, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Immigrant Child and Family Health, said more children will needlessly die.

“There’s a number of things that we can do to prevent deaths and infection. Those do not include holding children in cage-like facilities and warehouses altogether,” Linton said.

Children come into holding centers with a sense of resilience, Linton said, and potentially stronger immune systems. But the stress from being held against their will can cause immune systems to tank, she said.

That, paired with unsanitary conditions, such as open toilets and “insufficient supplies” to wash hands, is a breeding ground for infection, Linton added.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends annual flu shots for everyone over 6 months old in the U.S.

To call this decision insane, cruel, and fraught with potential disaster is a vast understatement. We are dealing with facilities in which large numbers of people, many of them children or adults with compromised immune systems, are living in incredibly close quarters. It has already been documented in court proceedings dealing with the conditions in these facilities that they have been denied soap and other personal items, that there have been shortages of water and sufficient food at times, and that the medical personnel at the facilities are quite frankly overwhelmed by the number of people they have to deal with on a regular basis. There are few signs that these conditions are going to improve any time soon, and we are headed into the flu season. One can easily see the conditions being created where someone with the flu is detained at one of these facilities and it spreads like wildfire through an unvaccinated population, or where a guard or other employee who has the flu infects people being held under their watch before realizing that they’re sick.

I don’t think I have to go much further with the scenario. Suffice it to say that we could end up with a situation where hundreds of people, if not more are suffering from the flu while being held in deplorable and unsanitary conditions, thus making it easier for the virus to spread. While most people will just get sick, others could develop complications like bronchitis and pneumonia that increases the risk that people could die.

Hopefully, the lawyers who continue to fight in the Federal Courts for the rights of this migrants will be able to convince a Judge that this is a horribly bad decision that violates the rights of the migrants under Federal and international law. Before we even get there, though, one has to wonder why the Federal Government would take this position. The Administration has already gotten enough bad press from the conditions in these facilities. If people start getting seriously ill or dying, then we’d be talking about an entirely man-made humanitarian crisis that could easily be averted via an aggressive and smart vaccination policy. At the very least, that would seem to mean that children above the recommended age for flu shots, the elderly, and other adults with compromised immune systems would be vaccinated as a first step. It may also require a more widespread vaccination program to ensure the infection doesn’t spread among the migrant population at large. It would not only be the smart thing to do, but it would also seem to be the only thing a decent and humane person would do.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. wr says:

    Well, let’s be all thankful that science has proven that viruses can’t pass through a chain link fence or our bold White Protectors guarding these terrible brown people might be in danger!!!

  2. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    In case PaulL and others fail to show up for this one, allow me to remind you that these children are criminals (!!!) and of the very worst kind. They have forced their parents–often at gunpoint, or so many are saying (but not me, of course)– so that they can steal our precious US citizenship from us–and our jobs when they get older (except for the ones who are already older and have cleverly disguised themselves as children). They deserve whatever happens to them.

  3. Mister Bluster says:

    …but it would also seem to be the only thing a decent and humane person would do.

    That would be if Pud’s administration consisted of any decent and humane persons.
    From the top down it is clear that it does not.

  4. SenyorDave says:

    @Mister Bluster: That would be if Pud’s administration consisted of any decent and humane persons.

    At this point I have to assume no decent and humane person would join this administration. They are getting the dregs of humanity.

  5. Kathy says:

    “First they came for the illegal immigrants. And I did not speak because they are of the wrong color.”

  6. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    one has to wonder why the Federal Government would take this position.

    I’m sorry, but in a nation where 46% or so of the population will vote for a racist carny barker–specifically because that’s what he is, no one needs to wonder about this at all. 90% of one political party and 53% of the Senate in that nation is onboard with it. Literally nothing to see here. Either vote them out or move on because this is who we are.

  7. Teve says:

    This policy will kill people.

  8. Gustopher says:

    @Teve: This policy? The flu vaccinations? I suspect you mean something else, like storing people like cattle…

  9. Teve says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: We’re weirdos who pay an abnormal amount of attention to politics, when most people pay little to none. Most people pay most of their attention to shit other than politics, probably because they’re smarter than us. 😛

    Fact is, he’s got about 42% popularity now that more people know who he is and what he’s about, and I’m going to stick with Hillary’s 50% deplorable number, so roughly one out of five Americans are pieces of shit.

    So fine, 1 out of 5 are pieces of shit. I’m not giving up because fuck them, that’s why.

    Michael: Yeah, well at least your name isn’t Michael Bolton.
    Samir: You know there’s nothing wrong with that name.
    Michael: There was nothing wrong with it until I was about 12 years old and that no-talent ass clown became famous and started winning Grammys.
    Samir: Hmm… well why don’t you just go by Mike instead of Michael?
    Michael: No way. Why should I change? HE’s the one who Sucks.

  10. Teve says:

    @Gustopher: somebody reminded us the other day that Anne Frank wasn’t killed by firing squad or cyanide, she was killed by typhus in the concentration camp.

  11. Sleeping Dog says:

    Christianist in the audience,
    What Would Jesus Do?

  12. mattbernius says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    In case PaulL and others fail to show up for this one, allow me to remind you that these children are criminals

    I’m not sure where Paul would fall out on this. Generally speaking he seems to be deeply skeptical of prosecutors and police (his constant, fair, attention about qualified immunity). I can’t say if that distrust extends to ICE/immigration or not.

    He’s historically not — based on his comments — a law and order conservative.

  13. Gustopher says:

    @Gustopher: I misread the headline as “Will” rather than “Won’t” because somehow I couldn’t believe anyone would decide not to.

    And then I skipped the entire post because I didn’t need 2500 words on “of course we are giving flu vaccines, because to do otherwise would be horrible.”

    In my defense, weed is legal in my state.

  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @mattbernius: Point taken. I just grabbed Paul L at random. He usually doesn’t use that many sentences, or compound/complex ones either. My bad.

  15. Gustopher says:

    I think we need to educate Steven Miller about the dangers of vaccinations with ridiculous antivaxxer nonsense.

    Then maybe the administration will try to punish brown folks by vaccinating them.

  16. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: it’s hard to spell Guanoberry, so I would have picked Paul L too…

  17. Jen says:

    One would think that those Americans living near these facilities–and, say, the employees who work at them–would be a bit more vocal at the danger this will present to them. It’s gross and disgusting that it need be framed that way, but honest-to-Gd, if that’s the only way to get through to this administration then it needs to happen.

    Having human beings densely packed into detention facilities during cold & flu season and then not vaccinating them puts anyone who comes into contact with them at risk for getting sick and/or carrying flu with them to the broader community. Even if guards are vaccinated, that doesn’t guarantee they won’t get sick (if they do, likely a milder case) but JFC how many times does herd immunity need to be explained?

    I really despise this administration on a visceral level that is hard to articulate sometimes.

  18. wr says:

    @Gustopher: ” I suspect you mean something else, like storing people like cattle…”

    Hey, cramming thousands of people together in enclosed spaces during a flu epidemic didn’t cause any troubles in 1918. Unless you’re one of those Democrat pussies who think that 50 million dead is a big deal.

  19. Kathy says:

    Forget impeachment, Trump ought to be prosecuted, tried, convicted, and left to rot in prison.

  20. EddieInCA says:


    I wish I could upvote this more times than one.

    “Office Space” references always win the internet.

  21. Teve says:


    I really despise this administration on a visceral level that is hard to articulate sometimes.

    since my initial reaction to Trump’s victory–drinking all the time–wasn’t working out, this year I changed to working out 1-2 hours a day, and life is much better!

  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jen: I hate to say this about my fellow humans, but I suspect that some of the employees are willing to accept the risk for the reward they feel in making these people as miserable as possible. Others may be too stupid to assess the risk properly.

    Sadly, part of me has stopped thinking of the employees and keepers at detention facilities as human to begin with and makes me not care what happens to them. It’s bad all the way around.

  23. steve says:

    A 10 dose vial of flu vaccine costs about $12-$15. So….

    The price of a dose of flu vaccine-$1.50

    Syringe to give it- $1.10

    Value to conservatives for the cruelty of having children die- Priceless



  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: You forgot our precious bodily fluids. Just in case nobody else has mentioned it yet.

  25. An Interested Party says:

    Good grief, why not just release plagues and pestilence on people you don’t like…I’ll bet Stephen Miller has written a memo about that…

  26. rachel says:

    After the inevitable flu cases break out, the Republicans will be able to accuse these poor people of carrying diseases in addition to all the rest they accuse them of, which will give even more excuse for Trump’s hateful policies.

  27. Tyrell says:

    @An Interested Party: If these children do not have parents or guardians, how would the legal issues be handled? You have to have written permission to give out medication. I know that from dealing with schools: even cough drops require a guardian permission note. I would say maybe this situation could waive that requirement.
    The last time I got the flu was the last time I got the vaccination: a few years ago. I have not had the flu since. The doctor says that some medicines evidently work opposite with me. The ones that make most people drowsy keep me awake. Caffeine makes me sleepy.
    The plague: has shown up in Los Angeles at the homeless section. (Forbes)

  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Tyrell: Children in custody are technically wards of the state; no permission is needed for anything that is done to them and there is no requirement to waive.

    On the plague: Bubonic or Pneumonic? It makes all the difference in the world.