The flu was the cause in three of the at least seven migrant kids’ deaths in U.S. Customs and Border Control custody in the last year. However, CBP officials are declining to provide flu vaccines at detention facilities to stop the spread of the virus, according to a new report from CNBC.

A CBP spokeswoman defended the decision on the grounds that supposedly families wouldn’t be in custody long enough to contract the flu. In an emailed statement to CNBC, she said, “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.”

When asked about what CBP is doing to provide medical care, the spokeswoman pointed to what she called a “dramatic increase” in the number of medical professionals working on the U.S.-Mexico border, and emphasized that “medical personnel on site are available 24/7 to provide medical diagnosis and treatment, address infectious disease issues, and coordinate referral to and follow-up from local health system/emergency rooms,”

The “short-term” nature of migrant detention the CBP spokeswoman refers to is the maximum of 72 hours that detainees can be held in Border Patrol facilities, according to agency standards. However, as a July 2 report from the Office of the Inspector General—which is the Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog—revealed, almost half of detainees are being held longer than 72 hours.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s online information on the flu, it takes much less than 72 hours of exposure for a person with the flu to be contagious: “Some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick.”

Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, the director of pediatric research for Harvard’s Tobacco Research and Treatment Center, told CNBC, “Flu deaths are particularly tragic, in my opinion, because they are almost always preventable with good public health measures.”

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

Winickoff was one of a group of doctors, including forensic pathologist Judy Melinek and Johns Hopkins public health professors Dr. Joshua Sharfstein and Dr. Paul Spiegel, who signed on to a letter to Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., encouraging Congress to investigate health conditions at the detention centers.

CBP’s decision not to provide flu vaccines exacerbates the already crowded and unsanitary conditions at their detention centers, as the above-mentioned OIG report also revealed. Per CNBC:

Department of Homeland Security reported prolonged holding of children without access to showers or laundry facilities. DHS inspectors said adults were being held in standing-room-only areas for up to a week and some had gone a month without a shower, contributing to unsanitary conditions and health risks, according to a July 2 report by the agency’s Office of Inspector General that was obtained by NBC News.

Adding to the frustration is the knowledge that when people do have access to the flu vaccine, rates of infection decline. According to a February report from the CDC, those who had the vaccine in the 2018-19 flu season were 47% less likely to get it. As Time reported, “The CDC recommends flu shots for nearly every American older than 6 months of age, with few exceptions.”

Dr. Julie Linton, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Immigrant Child and Family Health, told CNBC that if precautions aren’t taken, the situation will only get worse. “There’s a number of things that we can do to prevent deaths and infection,” she said. “Those do not include holding children in cage-like facilities and warehouses altogether,”



If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface. We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.

Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.