The Trump administration is ignoring the public health risk of denying flu vaccinations to migrants in its custody, despite the loss of three children in Customs and Border Protection’s care due to complications from the illness, according to the Brookings Institution.
And just as troubling, the administration refuses to make other policy changes that would cut back on the risk of an outbreak, instead pouring “thousands of new detainees into already crowded facilities, further deepening the resource strain.”
“Even as detainees are held in substandard conditions by the federal government—without regular access to basic human needs, health care, and nutrition—the absence of policy planning from the Trump administration has exacerbated the problem by ensuring a lack of staff, in turn leading to large backlogs and extended processing times,” the research group wrote.
The migrant community is already at a disadvantage due to “instability, lack of reliable hygiene, and lack of access to good nutrition and health care” — a situation only exacerbated by the poor conditions they face in U.S. facilities.
“The result is an at-risk population, placed in conditions conducive to a communicable disease outbreak for extended periods of time,” Brookings said, noting that several risk factors for an outbreak are evident in the government’s handling of the migrant community.
Those risk factors include: lack of access to water, proper sanitary conditions and adequate hygiene; overcrowding; mass population displacement; poor nutrition; and inadequate living conditions and infrastructure.
Given the overall situation, vaccinating migrants against the flu would be a wise and cost-effective maneuver, Brookings wrote:
The average influenza vaccine, for instance, costs between $1.00 and $1.50 per dose, according to prices from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The cost of administering health care to an individual suffering from influenza is significantly higher for the average individual and for children, the elderly, and at-risk populations. The cost of a vaccine should not be the sole driver of decision-making around such a policy, but the reality is that cost-benefit analyses are a common tool in public health policymaking.
Vaccines demonstrably lower the spread of disease, the think tank noted, and the cost would not be exorbitant: crunching some basic numbers, Brookings found that providing vaccinations for the 532,052 apprehended between October 2018–April 2019 would have cost $1,000,258, or just 0.002% of the entire Department of Homeland Security budget.
“The administration has been willing to declare a national emergency at America’s southern border while ignoring an actual public health emergency within government-run detention facilities—one largely of its own making,” the organization wrote in conclusion. “The U.S. government must act responsibly about the health risks within its own infrastructure and extend to detainees the same policies used for asylum recipients and those receiving permanent residency.”