Texas Immigrant Prison Accidentally Gave A Bunch of Kids An Adult-Strength Vaccine

Immigrant children being held in a privately operated detention center received an improper dose of hepatitis A vaccine.EXPAND
Immigrant children being held in a privately operated detention center received an improper dose of hepatitis A vaccine.
Karen Roach/Shutterstock

On the one hand, it might be comforting to know that the new, huge, taxpayer-funded but privately operated detention camp in South Texas for immigrant women and children is providing its young inmates with vaccinations. On the other hand, one should remember that vaccines, while life-saving, are not candy but a form of medicine that must be administered carefully and appropriately. So, it's a little unsettling to hear U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement say it definitely accidentally gave 250 kids adult-strength vaccines, even if nothing bad resulted from it. 

"Medical professionals monitored approximately 250 children at the South Texas Family Residential Center who, over a five-day period, inadvertently received an adult dose of hepatitis A vaccine rather than a pediatric dose," Nina Pruneda, an ICE spokesman, says in a statement.  "No significant adverse reactions occurred. Parents at the facility were advised and counseled by medical professionals about potential side effects, with services made available in multiple languages. ICE, in consultation with DHS's Office of Health Affairs, is conducting a thorough review of the circumstances that led to this event and will make all necessary changes to prevent similar occurrences in the future."

Barbara Hines, an immigration attorney who visited the prison last week, has a different take. Hines spoke with a mother who reported troubling side effects after her child received shots. "I met with a mother last week at Dilley who told me that her 4-year-old child was feverish, not eating, having trouble walking and complaining of the pain in his leg,” Hines says in a written statement.

The vaccine overdose was exposed on July 4 by immigration attorneys, who, along with prisoner advocates, are using the instance to make the case that family detention camps are inhumane and should be shut down. The South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley is operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, one of two corporations that has profited tremendously from the influx of illegal immigrants crossing the border.

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The Dilley center, which now has 2,400 beds, is the largest of its kind in the United States. A report by the prison advocacy group Grassroots Leadership earlier this year found that the CCA has in particular benefited from the "bed quota," the mandate passed by lawmakers that says the Department of Homeland Security must  "maintain a level of not less than 33,400 detention beds."

Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, describes a traumatic atmosphere at the South Texas camp: "..children have been forced to sleep with the lights on, are subject to intrusive checks regularly throughout the night, and have been dragged from their beds at 4 a.m. to be given shots while their mothers must stand helplessly by without being told what is going on or being allowed a say in the matter."

Grassroots Leadership consulted with a University of Texas medical student, who said that, while most of the kids should be fine, “the symptoms that Barbara [Hines] saw are consistent with vaccine overdose ... This is a red flag warning of deeper problems with medical care in detention centers, and reminds us why private prison corporations should not be entrusted with the care of children.”

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