My letter to the board of health
Should the undocumented, legal immigrants or US citizens born in another nation be second in line for the COVID 19 vaccine?
I am writing in regards to the information required to register for the COVID19 vaccine wait list. It has personally caused concern for my family with greater implications for undocumented immigrants. The family member is actually a US citizen, and was born in another country; so yes we are a documented family.
My purpose in writing is to ensure that the requested information does not drive disparity among our population in Knox County. We are required to share our race, ethnicity, and the country we were born in. What significance does the country of birth have, and how is this being used for the purposes of the waiting list for the vaccine? More importantly, how is our undocumented population being given access to the vaccine?
I spent 25+ years as a community mental health worker in Tennessee and Florida, where I helped people from all demographics including the undocumented population in South Florida. In Tennessee, my clients would omit relevant information for providing in-home mental health services out of fear the state of TN would find out information. In FL, the immigrants survived out of fear of deportation with medical needs not being met for their children. If they have to register for something and cannot prove documentation, they will avoid it.
The state of Nebraska has publicly stated US citizens will take priority in vaccinations. I believe this is wrong, as we are equal human beings in a pandemic. Many of the undocumented immigrants in our nation are essential frontline workers. Not vaccinating them will effect the herd immunity needed for full recovery as a community. It also violates human rights to prioritize healthcare due to race, ethnicity and country of origin.
It’s not that people are specifically excluded due to immigration status, however the environment does not allow them to participate. There are 10.7 million undocumented immigrants in the US who will face various indirect barriers to vaccinations due to their legal status, who fear being identified when registering through systems that haven’t taken their needs into account.
I understand the rapid rollout of a vaccine program could easily leave gaps that were not foreseen. The system is not exclusionary by intent, but by default. The question I pose is how can the Knox County Board of Health remove such barriers so discrimination does not occur implicitly?
I appreciate your time and consideration to this matter.