Our Turn: The border crisis and the importance of vaccinations

Published: 9/21/2019 7:00:10 AM

With the recent unprecedented influx of migrant children and families at the southern U.S. border comes unprecedented challenges. A major challenge is the prevention of infectious diseases both among those seeking refuge and among those caring for them.

From Sept. 1, 2018, to Aug. 22, 2019, 898 confirmed or probable cases of mumps in adult migrants were reported from 57 detention facilities in the United States, and an additional 33 cases occurred among staff members. While approximately 150 mumps outbreaks and 16,000 cases have been reported in the United States since 2015, most often in close-contact settings, this is the first report of mumps outbreaks in detention facilities.

The prevention and control of outbreaks of infectious diseases among detained migrants is of utmost importance with the 2019-20 influenza (flu) season about to begin. Every year outside of detention facilities in the United States, millions of children get sick with flu, and thousands of children are hospitalized, and some children die from flu.

Children younger than 5 years of age – especially those younger than 2 years old – are at greatest risk of serious flu-related complications. Also, conditions such as overcrowding in detention facilities result in close contact, which, in turn, increases the risk of transmission of infectious diseases such as mumps and flu.

Flu vaccine is the best defense against flu and its spread to others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends routine annual flu vaccination for all people 6 months of age or older who do not have contraindications. Vaccination to prevent influenza is especially important among those at increased risk for severe illness and complications from influenza, including all children aged 6 months up to their fifth birthday. Further, the best way to protect children younger than 6 months old is to ensure that the people around them are vaccinated.

Unprecedented challenges require unprecedented responses. We implore Congress to authorize funding, and agencies and organizations charged with protecting health, including detention facilities, local and state health departments, CDC, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Health Service Corps, to adopt policies and processes that allow for the provision of flu vaccine.

Timely, nimble and decisive action will prevent unnecessary and unacceptable illnesses and outbreaks among the already vulnerable children and families detained at our southern border.

(Marcella Jordan Bobinsky is president of the New Hampshire Public Health Association. Tessa Lafortune-Greenberg is president of the New Hampshire Medical Society.)


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