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Healthcare Providers Warn Of Infectious Disease Outbreaks At Border Detention Facilities


Madison Dapcevich

Staff Writer

clockJan 30 2020, 11:20 UTC

People taking part in the July 2019 Lights4Liberty protests against planned ICE raids against immigrants and the detention centers along the southern border. Christopher Penier/Shutterstock

Infectious disease experts are citing concerns over outbreaks if US border patrol detention facilities do not provide vaccinations and adequate medical care to prevent them.

Cramped conditions paired with inadequate sanitation and medical care make detention centers “tinderboxes” for infectious disease outbreaks, say physicians at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Physical and emotional stress and trauma may further weaken the immune systems of those held in detention centers. Study authors Mark Travassos and Carlo Foppiano Palacio say it's not a surprise that detainees have been quarantined because of influenza, mumps, and chickenpox outbreaks.


“Outbreaks and deaths in detention centers point to the need for influenza immunization in these facilities,” write the authors in a commentary published in the New England Journal of Medicine, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Quarantine and Border Health Services recommend that employees at the US Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities be held to similar vaccination standards as healthcare workers at hospitals during flu season.

"Our infectious disease research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine has served as a critical tool in protecting even the most vulnerable populations, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, from complex and emerging diseases. Vaccines are an important tool in preventing serious illnesses such as influenza, measles, mumps, and chickenpox," said E. Albert Reece, Dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in a statement.

Immigration officers have been criticized in recent months for failing to administer flu vaccines to detainees at the border following the deaths of at least seven detained children. The Infectious Diseases Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology has called for the “immediate implementation of a plan to administer seasonal influenza vaccinations” at border patrol facilities. Physicians and healthcare workers of the organization Doctors for Camp Closure have requested access to CBP camps to provide free influenza vaccinations and say that their request has gone ignored, prompting a petition that has more than 2,800 signatures at the time of publication.

“Flu deaths are preventable. Large-scale vaccination is not unprecedented or insurmountable," wrote the organization in a November statement. "Our government has undertaken similar efforts in the past and has the resources to do so. Physicians who understand the dire need for vaccinations are ready to offer their own time, vaccine supplies, and expertise to ensure that more needless deaths do not occur. Yet they are turned away. 


“Continued refusal to acknowledge physicians’ concerns by CBP, HHS, and DHS is a failure of our government to protect not only the people held in detention but all people within our borders.”

CBP officials say they are complying with many of the flu-fighting recommendations, CNN reports.

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