2021 | Coronavirus

Immigrants racially profiled at COVID-19 vaccine clinics, advocates say

Group says only certain people are asked for documentation

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Pictured are Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses from the initial 100 delivered to Montgomery County officials on Dec. 23.

Photo from Montgomery County

Some Montgomery County residents — both documented and undocumented immigrants — are being profiled at COVID-19 vaccine clinics, a local advocacy group said.

The Vaccine Hunters, a group of educatots, help residents who have language barriers or don’t have digital access find and schedule appointments for COVID-19 vaccines. The group has helped more than 1,000 people sign up for appointments.

During a media briefing on Monday morning, members of the group said Black and brown residents are sometimes asked for proof of citizenship or job-related paperwork, while white residents are not.

Maisie Lynch, one of the founders of the Vaccine Hunters, said that at least three incidents in the past week, documented and undocumented immigrants have gone to retail pharmacies and asked for paperwork that other people weren’t being asked for.

Once, a pharmacist insisted that an individual have a U.S.-issued ID and a Social Security number. When a state delegate tried speaking to the pharmacist on the phone to clear up the matter, the pharmacist hung up, Lynch said.

Another time, two Latino clergy members went to a retail pharmacy for vaccine appointments and brought W-2 forms to confirm their eligibility. However, they were told they needed a letter from their employers, Lynch said. The situation was cleared up when a Vaccine Hunters member intervened over the phone.

On Sunday, an African American woman who tried to go to a hospital vaccine clinic was asked for a work ID, a letter from her employer and one other document. White residents at the clinic were not asked for the documentation, Lynch said.

The woman who visited the hospital clinic was also asked for her teaching certificate even though she had already provided her pay stub and teacher ID, according to Maria Peterson, another member of the Vaccine Hunters group.

Tania Perez-Fuentes, another member of the Vaccine Hunters, said racial profiling instances can discourage people from getting the vaccine.

“We’re wanting to get people past the initial fear of getting the vaccine,” she said. “And now they’re fearful of what they’re going to be asked and what they’re going to be questioned, and if their legality is going to be questioned.”

Perez-Fuentes said those instances were “humiliating” for those residents.

Vaccinators are not supposed to require proof of health insurance and or ask about immigration status.

Now, the group is calling on the state and vaccine providers to:
● Have a multilingual hotline, so people can report accessibility and equity issues when they are at a vaccine site and receive assistance
● Post clear multilingual signage at all vaccine clinic locations
● Have all clinics require just one form of proof or clear ID requirements

“Our focus is how we can prevent this going forward,” Lynch said.

County Council President Tom Hucker, who hosted the briefing, said the problems the group cited were “troubling.”

The state should enforce its guidelines and provide more doses to the county health department, which has equity policies, he said.

“We don’t know how widespread this is, but to have multiple incidents like this come up with the same storyline behind them is really, really troubling,” he said. “The retail s, cannot be treating people any differently based on their race or immigration status.”

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.