Vaccinations for Immigrant Children in the US

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SEATTLE, Washington — In 2019, United States detention centers held approximately 70,000 migrant children, many of whom fled their homes for asylum, education or simply to have a better life in America. While being held in custody, three children died of the flu, which disease experts say is extremely preventable through access to vaccinations. However, due to the short-term status of the children’s stay, and the low number of medical professionals, the centers do not provide vaccinations for immigrant children prior to, or upon, arrival.

Immigrant Healthcare

Many of the immigrants coming to the United States are from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. In all three of these countries, healthcare access is poor, with a low physician population density. For example, in El Salvador, there are about 1.6 physicians for every 1,000 people, while in Honduras and Guatemala, there are about 0.93 physicians and 0.83 physicians per 1,000 people, respectively. While the countries have high vaccination rates of about 85% to 90%, refugee and immigrant families do not always have vaccinations when coming into the United States.

Importance of Vaccinations

The United States government’s current policy is that it will not provide vaccinations for immigrant children, or families, as the centers are meant to be temporary spots, and therefore are staffed with border patrol, a form of law enforcement and not medical professionals. However, the nature of the centers puts many people in close proximity, which results in faster and easier ways to spread the disease. In addition, the immune system can be easily compromised by the emotional stress of leaving one’s home for a new, unknown country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all children over the age of six months get a flu shot each year to drastically decrease the number of cases and deaths per year, as the flu shot reduces the risk of death by an estimated 65%. On average, within the United States, one in 600,000 children die of the flu. However, within the immigration system, three in 200,000 children die of the flu. Professors at Harvard University in Cambridge and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore encouraged vaccinations for children, citing that the flu is a very preventable cause of death.

Cost of Solutions

In addition to the expectations of a short-term stay at an immigration center, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has also stated that they will not be administering vaccinations due to the complications that come with vaccination programs. Regardless of the policies, obtaining vaccinations is not as expensive as one might think. Without health insurance, a flu vaccine costs about $30, and with 70,000 children in the immigration centers in 2019, the cost of vaccinations for all children comes out to about $2 million. For comparison, an F-35 fighter jet, which the United States government is investing in, costs about $94 million. This is 47 times the cost of vaccinations for 70,000 children.

Vaccinations, while contested among citizens in the United States, are an important provision to protecting not only immigrants but the country as well. With highly populated immigration centers and immigrants being quickly exposed to others from all over the world, there is a high risk for a flu outbreak. Providing vaccinations for immigrant children is a simple and relatively cheap solution to preventing child deaths, and is highly encouraged by reputable doctors across the United States.

—Alyssa Hogan
Photo: Flickr

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