Given the current U.S. measles crisis, the World Health Organization’s assertion that we all just needed to adjust to pandemics as a “new normal,” and the growing possibility of the WHO declaring a global health emergency on Ebola, a CDC public health loophole should give us all serious pause: While the CDC requires all legal immigrants to be vaccinated, there are no vaccination requirements for illegal immigrants, temporary visa holders, or visitors to the U.S.
Indeed, testimony from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says we now face “increased risk of life-threatening incidents and impact to public health” and family units are released with “unknown vaccination status and without a standard medical examination for communicable diseases of public health concern.”
This issue transcends the standard immigration debate. Those who aren’t vaccinated and migrating to the United States are even more at risk since there has already been a resurgence of previously eradicated diseases, like measles, among American citizens where rates of vaccinations have become low.
Political and public health officials encourage Americans — other than those who can’t because of age, health, religious beliefs, or other factors — to vaccinate, both to protect themselves and to improve our declining “herd immunity.”
But the unvaccinated don’t cause disease any more than those who leave doors unlocked are responsible for burglaries. If anything, the unvaccinated — regardless of citizenship status — more than anyone needs a strong prophylactic public health policy.
Our focus needs to be on infectious diseases, and the first line of defense is being serious about preventing the entry of disease into this country.
Consider related facts that are not well known: Measles aren’t a grinning excuse for skipping school as shown on The Brady Bunch episode "Is There a Doctor in the House?" According to the CDC, measles can cause serious illness that can lead to permanent brain damage and even death. Globally in 2017, it caused 110,000 deaths.
Infected individuals won’t show any symptoms of the measles virus for one to three weeks. Yet, measles is highly contagious, easily transferred through coughing and sneezing, and lingers for hours or even days. Babies under 12-months-old who can't yet be protected by the vaccine are most at risk. So are unvaccinated pregnant women, the elderly, and any non-immune person.
No longer are immigrants at the border preponderantly young men from Central America, but instead, they come from everywhere — from Ukraine to Africa to Bangladesh. A significant majority are family units or unaccompanied children, and children are more susceptible to illness than adults.
In May alone, more than 50,000 children were apprehended entering the country illegally, and many apprehended were ill.
Further DHS testimony stated that many individuals "have never seen a doctor, received immunizations, or lived in sanitary conditions.” Being confined in busses and trains hastens the spread of disease and leaves them even more vulnerable.
That means a seemingly healthy group of asylum seekers could be bussed and dropped off at a strip mall, as is happening in California, cough or sneeze, and unwittingly spread germs. Their fellow immigrants on the bus and shoppers at the mall — a mother who hasn’t the luxury of full-time childcare so is running errands with her six-month-old infant in a stroller and has stopped into a strip mall sandwich shop — are at risk.
We are spending $1.6 billion on medical care and attention for those apprehended at the southern border, yet only if an immigrant is a) caught, and b) already presenting as ill is he or she treated.
None of the vaccinations required for any legal entrant are checked for or required for these immigrants. For children under 18, there are vaccination requirements, but a recent study indicated there were discrepancies between regulation and execution, presumably a byproduct of the record-breaking tsunami of immigrants needing processing before being released.
San Antonio just received over 300 immigrants who came through Mexico from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Fortunately, they left before Congo’s latest measles outbreak and world’s second largest and deadliest Ebola epidemic (for which we no longer screen).
Ebola is even scarier than measles: there’s no cure, it’s contagious, and 70 percent of the cases in the last 10 months have been fatal.
Despite a number of reports of illness among illegal immigrants before they enter the country or when apprehended and detained, weirdly none are so officially reported once here.
It’s possible that miraculously they’re all suddenly healthy. But The New York Times and Huffington Post have reported that illegal immigrants usually don't seek traditional healthcare outlets and instead rely on an underground market for health care.
As practicing medicine without a license carries jail time, such practitioners reporting information on infectious disease cases to the CDC seems unlikely.
Diseases like L.A.’s typhoid problem don’t just spring from nowhere. Someone introduced them. Pretending there is no disease among and from illegal immigrants until an underground practitioner reports a Patient Zero is public health malpractice.
Even if we had sensible vaccination requirements in place for everyone, those entering who are never apprehended (estimated in 2017 at just under 60,000 per year), if unvaccinated present risks to themselves, and if infected present risks to others. Preventing a porous border is a matter of public health.
It would be tragic to allow the undoing of the decades-long tremendous gains in public health in eradicating the prevalence and spread of infectious diseases.
Anticipating this growing challenge, Independent Women’s Voice recently launched an information campaign and national petition asking our government to act to protect Americans and immigrants alike — especially our most vulnerable infants — before this becomes a crisis.
Our government should both require that sensible rules about vaccination apply to all, not just some, who enter the U.S. and should secure our borders because border security is a public health issue.
The WHO may declare pandemics to be the new normal, but we say “not on our watch.”
Heather Higgins is the CEO of Independent Women's Voice.
Stop the spread of infectious diseases. Urge the government to intervene. SIGN THE PETITION