Oct 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

U.S. offers flu shots to detained migrants for first time in history

People near Eagle Pass, Texasm being processed by U.S. Border Patrol after crossing U.S. southern border illegally on Oct. 9.

People near Eagle Pass, Texas being processed by U.S. Border Patrol on Oct. 9. Photo: Allison Dinner/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. government is for the first time ever giving flu vaccines to people detained for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a top health official at the Department of Homeland Security.

Driving the news: Pritesh Gandhi, the department's chief medical officer, told CBS News that more than 24,000 migrants in federal custody have received the vaccine since last month, reversing a longtime policy.

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection is giving the flu vaccine to roughly 1,000 migrants per day, Gandhi said.

Why it matters: The change comes after at least two children died of influenza while in federal custody in recent years.

  • Around that time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that CBP start vaccinating migrants, but the border agency declined to do so.
  • CPB argued that it was "logistically very challenging for a number of reasons" and unnecessary since most apprehended people spend less than 72 hours in Border Patrol facilities, according to the New York Times.

What they're saying: Gandhi told CBS in an interview published Monday that the change was a "basic step" toward protecting not just migrants, but CBP agents and communities in the U.S. as well.

  • "For us, this was just a logistical challenge. But the public health and clinical rationale was evident from day one," Gandhi said.
  • "We are reducing the burden on local hospitals and communities. We are ensuring that interior American communities stay safe and healthy. And we are ensuring that noncitizens who enter the United States are also safe and healthy and protected from the flu."
  • The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

Context: The Biden administration previously considered requiring migrants aged 5 and older to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition for crossing the southern border to await court hearings.

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