Vaccinating migrants is the right thing to do


December 12, 2023

By Dale Wilcox and Matt O’Brien

Emergency rooms and hospitals across the United States are being overwhelmed by migrants seeking treatment for maladies the U.S. had previously eradicated, including polio, whooping cough, tetanus, and measles/mumps/rubella. Before 2000, most of these ailments were primarily of concern to physicians working in developing countries that lack medical infrastructure.

Vaccination against infectious diseases is the most cost-effective health care tool available. Today, typical Americans get their first vaccinations shortly after being born and continue to get serial vaccinations through their childhood, adolescence and adulthood. This lifelong program of inoculation protects Americans from the potentially catastrophic effects of common infectious diseases. In fact, immunizations are so important to public health that they are mandatory for public school attendance and the practice of certain professions.

Nevertheless, millions of people cross our borders each year, and most of these people have had few if any vaccinations. Many have never had access to basic medical or dental care. This puts U.S. citizens at significant risk for outbreaks of pathogens that were previously rare in our communities, including ones we now read about only in history books — such as cholera, typhus and dengue fever.

The anti-borders contingent will inevitably decry such statements as xenophobic, claiming that anyone who raises this legitimate public health issue is “blaming migrants for bringing disease to the United States.” But nothing could be further from the truth.

In the 1940s, Congress enacted Title 42 to give border authorities the power to respond to pandemics. People lawfully immigrating to the United States have long been required to pass a medical exam by a U.S. Public Health Service civil surgeon and to provide proof of appropriate vaccinations.

So, what is the right way to address this problem? If the current administration insists on allowing noncitizens to enter the country illegally, at least bring them up to date on all vaccinations recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While this may sound like a daunting and expensive proposition, it would save lives and money in the long run.v

To prevent the resurgence of maladies we have already banished from our country, fully vaccinating all arriving migrants is the sensible thing to do.

The tangible savings of vaccinations would be enormous. A national commission reported in 2003 that for diphtheria/pertussis, $27 is saved for each dollar spent on immunizations. For measles, $13.50 is saved for each dollar spent. And for chickenpox, $4.76 is saved for each dollar spent.

The intangible savings would be even larger. A 2007 study documented 92% reductions in incidence of disease and 99% reductions in mortality for diphtheria, mumps, pertussis and tetanus after people were inoculated against these diseases. The same study also established that vaccinations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and chickenpox resulted in reductions in death of 80% or more.

In addition, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has already proved that it can be done. In November 2021, CBP found the resources to implement a pilot immunization program. The program eventually administered 662,101 vaccinations for COVID-19 and 180,357 vaccinations for influenza. That program, however, was eventually discontinued due to a claimed lack of funding — despite the fact that countless lives — both American and migrant — were doubtlessly saved.

The record numbers of migrants now coming to America mean crowded processing and detention centers. These conditions are conducive to the rapid spread of infectious diseases among migrants, federal agents and nearby U.S. populations.

Vaccinating all incoming migrants — no matter how long they’re expected to be in the U.S. — will protect their health. But it will also protect the health of the Americans the migrants encounter. Between 3 million and 8 million recently arrived foreigners are attending school, shopping, riding public transportation and, in many cases, working alongside U.S. citizens.

We are spending billions of dollars to feed and house our current crop of uninvited guests. Given the complexities of the American legal process, it doesn’t appear that anyone is going to ask them to leave in the near future. Accordingly, it only makes sense to spend the relatively few additional dollars necessary to ensure that their potential impact on American public health is minimized.

If mandatory vaccinations are essential for U.S. citizens, then they should also be considered essential for migrants processed by the Department of Homeland Security. To prevent the resurgence of maladies we have already banished from our country, fully vaccinating all arriving migrants is the sensible thing to do. It would be money well spent on protecting public health, both in the U.S. and around the world.

Dale L. Wilcox is executive director and general counsel at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of mass migration.

Matt O’Brien is director of investigations at the Immigration Reform Law Institute and co-host of the podcast “No Border, No Country.” Before working for the institute, he served as an immigration judge. He has nearly 30 years of experience in immigration law and policy, having held numerous positions in the Department of Homeland Security.

Also published at The Washington Times, December 12, 2023.

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