The U.S. government has vaccinated more than 20,000 migrants and asylum-seekers in U.S. border custody since launching a massive COVID-19 vaccination campaign in late March, the top doctor at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told CBS News.
During an interview this week, Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, the chief medical officer at DHS, said as many as 1,000 migrants are being vaccinated every day at 24 processing facilities across the U.S.-Mexico border as part of one of the largest medical initiatives the government has set up for undocumented individuals in U.S. custody.
“It is something that I believe is historic, because we are building a health system all along the southwest border, an area that has been historically neglected for years, if not decades,” Gandhi told CBS News on Tuesday during a tour of the migrant holding center in McAllen, Texas, one of the sites offering vaccines.
Migrants who are not expelled under a pandemic-era rule known as Title 42 are being offered COVID-19 vaccines while in the custody of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which temporarily holds them, usually for no longer than 72 hours, before transferring them to another agency, releasing them or deporting them.
Those who cannot demonstrate proof of prior vaccination are counseled to receive a vaccine shot while in CBP custody, Gandhi said, noting the “overwhelming majority” of migrants opt to get vaccinated. The vaccine refusal rate among migrants in border custody, he added, stands in “the low teens.”
The counseling, Gandhi said, is conducted in the migrant’s native language and includes information about the benefits of the vaccine. Migrants who enter U.S. border custody already vaccinated are offered booster shots, Gandhi added.
Earlier this year, DHS officials said migrants who refused vaccination could be transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers or released with “more stringent conditions of parole,” such as ankle monitors. But Gandhi said migrants should not view the vaccination effort and the counseling around it as a “punitive measure.”
Source: El Universal