At least two recent incidents in which undocumented women in Southern California were denied COVID-19 vaccinations prompted activists and others Thursday to point out that such denials go against public health advice, prompting an apology. Rite-Aid, the pharmacy chain involved. in denials.
“It is unacceptable, absolutely abhorrent, for any for-profit entity, or any other entity, to deny vaccination to any human being simply because they do not have immigration status,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Human Rights of the immigrants.
Rite Aid spokesman Chris Savarese on Thursday described the two cases as “isolated incidents and errors” among the roughly 1 million vaccines the pharmacy has distributed. In both situations, Rite Aid offered the women new vaccination appointments and both have since received an injection.
“At Rite Aid, our priority is to administer the COVID-19 vaccines assigned to us as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible based on local eligibility criteria. In an unprecedented implementation, there will be mistakes and there will always be areas where providers need to improve; we look for those opportunities every day, ”Savarese said in an emailed statement.
Rite Aid employees have now been informed that if clients seeking vaccines do not have identification, they should not be turned away, Savarese wrote.
But before Rite Aid’s apologies, issued last week, employees at at least two pharmacies denied people access to protection because they couldn’t provide a social security number.
Sebastian Araujo, a UCLA student, said he was initially excited a few weeks ago when he received a call from a Rite Aid pharmacy about additional COVID-19 vaccinations, relieved that his parents would receive the critical protection.
But when they arrived at the Mission Hills pharmacy in the San Fernando Valley earlier this month, a pharmacist told her mother that she couldn’t get a vaccine because she was an undocumented immigrant.
“The first thing they asked is ‘Do you have health insurance?’ Then they asked for a Social Security number, ”said Araujo, a UCLA student. “My parents and I looked at each other and my father said ‘Isn’t that discrimination against undocumented people?'”
Then the pharmacy staff told her mother in Spanish, three times: “Undocumented people are not going to get a vaccine.”
A few days later, a similar scene happened in Laguna Niguel, where a woman was denied a vaccine at a Rite Aid because she was unable to provide a social security number.
Neither of them felt comfortable going back to the original pharmacy that turned them down. Both said they felt humiliated when their immigration status was questioned in front of other clients. They both left the pharmacies crying.
Costa Mesa residents Kevin and Yesenia Rager, with their children Even, 5, and Jaden, 10, helped their babysitter after she was denied the COVID-19 vaccine at a Rite Aid pharmacy in Laguna Niguel because he does not have social security. number. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
In the San Fernando Valley incident, after Araujo took to social media to publicize what happened to his mother, a Rite Aid representative called to apologize and schedule another appointment for March 16.
“Then days later, we found out that it happened again,” Araujo said.
On March 18, the Laguna Niguel woman said she was also asked for health insurance information and a Social Security number as proof of identification at a Rite Aid on Crown Valley Parkway. They told him that vaccines were being prioritized for American citizens.
“I was very embarrassed,” said the woman, who has lived in Orange County for 20 years and asked that her name not be used due to her immigration status. “]
While at the pharmacy, the woman called her employer, Yesenia Rager, who spoke with the pharmacist.
“What is happening?” She asked him.
“Your employee does not have a social security number and we are prioritizing US citizens,” Yesenia Rager told her.
The woman has been a nanny for the Rager family for five years, since the birth of her eldest son.
Kevin Rager said he received the same response from different people he spoke to at the pharmacy, so he contacted the Rite Aid corporate office. Soon, she received an apology and an appointment for the woman, who was eligible for the vaccine as a caregiver.
“It made me wonder, how many other times did they get away with it?”
Vaccines are available to everyone who meets certain eligibility criteria. The newer criteria, announced Thursday, broadens the pool of eligible people to everyone age 50 and older as of April 1, and everyone age 16 and older as of April 15. Vaccinations are free and no proof of insurance is required.
On Thursday, representatives from the St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in Los Angeles joined numerous labor, immigrant and civic organizations for a vaccination clinic and press conference outside the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor office. to report the two incidents. They encouraged immigrants to register for a COVID-19 vaccine and reminded everyone that vaccines are available to everyone, regardless of immigration status.
Community leaders who gathered for the press conference Thursday said they want the state to take more steps to prioritize essential workers, many of them immigrants and minorities who have no choice but to work and have been among the worst affected groups. during the pandemic.
Rudy Espinoza, executive director of Inclusive Action for the City, which supports street vendors, said the undocumented immigrant population is among the most vulnerable. He advised them: “Don’t let anyone reject you.”