Man denied COVID vaccine due to immigration status. Now, Texas clinic is apologizing

·3 min read

A Texas university health clinic has apologized after a man says it denied his father a COVID-19 vaccine because he’s not a U.S. citizen.

Abraham Diaz registered his father to get a COVID-19 vaccine with the University of Texas Health Rio Grande Valley late last year, he told KHOU. His father is 61 years old and has pre-existing conditions.

“I sat down with him over dinner and I asked him, ‘Do you want to take the vaccine? There’s an opportunity,’” Diaz told the outlet. “And he said, ‘Yes, let’s sign me up, let me know what I need to take.’”

His appointment was Feb. 20.

Diaz said his father waited in line for four hours at the school’s vaccine clinic before he called, hurt and embarrassed: A person working at the clinic told the man — incorrectly — that he couldn’t get the vaccine because of his citizenship status, NPR reported.

“[Dad] said that [the health worker] told him in front of everybody, ‘You don’t have a social, so we can’t help you at all. And it’s only for U.S. citizens,’” Diaz told the outlet.

But the Texas Department of State Health Services says there is no residency requirement to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a document for vaccine providers outlining best practices.

A UTRGV spokesperson confirmed to NPR that the clinic didn’t follow state guidance.

The Department of Homeland Security has also urged all people, “regardless of immigration status, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once eligible under local distribution guidelines.”

It added that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection wouldn’t “conduct enforcement operations” at or near vaccination sites.

Diaz recounted his father’s experience on Twitter following the appointment.

The next day, the UTRGV clinic posted an apology to Twitter, explaining it was made aware that it hadn’t followed the state’s guidelines that vaccines should be available to “all eligible patients, regardless of their place of residence.”

“UT Health RGV apologizes to those patients who were affected at Saturday’s vaccine site,” the statement said. “We are reaching out to provide those patients with an appointment at their earliest convenience.”

On Wednesday, the clinic posted a public notice to Twitter explaining that it’s committed to distributing the vaccine to all eligible individuals and that none would be turned away due to their residency or immigration status.

Dr. John Krause, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine, also apologized to those who’d been turned away.

“I’d like to apologize to them,” Krause said, according to KRGV. “I think this is something that should not have happened. We always strive to treat everyone with the utmost respect.”

Diaz said his father was hurt by the experience.

“He was very angry and really upset that they denied them just because of his immigration status,” Diaz told KHOU, adding that his dad wants to ensure that “undocumented folks are not turned away.”

UTRGV is in South Texas near the U.S.-Mexico border.

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