Members of Congress urged U.S. Customs and Border Protection to change its decision not to vaccinate migrants against the flu.
A letter sent Monday by 65 Democratic legislators to Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan expressed "disappointment and alarm about the failure of CBP to provide recommended flu vaccinations to migrants in its custody."
The lawmakers' letter, led by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, came after the latest revelations about the deaths of three children under CBP custody over the past year, who died in part of the flu.
Legislators have criticized CBP for overlooking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations, and called into question CBP policies for detection and treatment of flu in its facilities.
"CBP acknowledges that there is an 'unprecedented' humanitarian crisis at the Southwest Border, and yet, despite this admission, insists on adhering to its 'long-standing practice' of not conducting vaccinations for the flu in its facilities," the letter said. "This decision is unconscionable and continues to endanger the health and safety of migrant families, CBP personnel, and the American public."
U.S. officials not only called on CBP to immediately reverse its decision, but also asked the agency to answer a series of questions about its ongoing failure to provide recommended flu vaccines to detainees.
As the flu season is officially under way, lawmakers requested a response to their letter by Dec. 30, 2019.
A CBP spokesperson did not immediately respond to VOA's email requesting a comment about the letter.
Meanwhile, physicians from Doctors for Camp Closure rallied at the beginning of the month to demand CBP provide preventative flu care to detained migrants. They hauled coolers with flu vaccines and showed up at a migrant detention center near San Diego, California.
The organization, which has more than 2,000 members, held three days of action. On Day 2, about six people were arrested — four were medical doctors.
They were taken into custody by the Federal Protective Services and cited for "failure to comply with the lawful directions of a federal police officer." All have been released.
"We have gotten messages from some of our 2,100+ physician members who are interested in pushing this issue at detention centers and CBP sector headquarters in their own cities," Bonnie Arzuaga, Doctors for Camp Closure co-founder, said in an email to VOA.
In November, the group of licensed physicians proposed a pilot flu clinic program to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A CBP spokesperson previously told VOA in an email that there were currently no changes to CBP's policy on vaccinations, adding that the agency has medical personnel engaged along the southwest border, and most of the facilities in the highest volume sectors have around-the-clock medical support available on-site.
CBP officials argued that most migrants spend less than 72 hours in Border Patrol facilities. According to reports, CBP defends its course of action, saying it will not vaccinate migrants in detention because people are typically held in the agency's custody for three days or less.
CBP added that those who are sent to the custody of other federal agencies will receive vaccinations later.
"Of course Border Patrol isn't going to let a random group of radical political activists show up and start injecting people with drugs," Homeland Security's press secretary said on Twitter.
Of course Border Patrol isn't going to let a random group of radical political activists show up and start injecting people with drugs. https://t.co/k8e9hYSOSy— DHS spokesperson (@SpoxDHS) December 10, 2019
Physicians from Doctors for Camp Closure are still hoping to offer free flu shots for detained undocumented immigrants.
"We will be following up with CBP in San Diego. ... Their promise to have their chief medical officer, Dr. David Tarantino, call us has yet to be fulfilled. We are hoping that he will connect with us by next week, as well, and we will be pursuing that connection until it happens," Arzuaga told VOA last week.
The flu shot pilot program at a CBP facility was offered at no cost to the federal government.
CDC's website shows that seasonal influenza activity in the United States has been "elevated for four weeks and continues to increase."
CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get a flu vaccine each season.