At least two recent incidents involving undocumented women in Southern California being denied COVID-19 vaccinations prompted activists and others on Thursday to point out that such denials violate public health advice – and apologized to Rite-Aid, the involved pharmacy chain in the denials.
“It is unacceptable, absolutely disgusting, that a for-profit organization, or any other entity, would refuse vaccination to a human simply because they don’t have immigration status,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the LA-based Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights.
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 issued. In both situations, Rite Aid offered the women new vaccination appointments and both have since been given an injection.
“At Rite Aid, our priority is to administer COVID-19 vaccines. We are assigned based on local eligibility criteria as quickly, securely and efficiently as possible. With such an unprecedented rollout, there will be errors and there will always be areas for providers to improve – we look for those opportunities every day, ”Savarese said in an email.
Rite Aid employees have now been advised that if customers looking for vaccines do not have identification, they should not be rejected, Savarese wrote.
But ahead of Rite Aid’s apologies, issued last week, workers in at least two pharmacies denied people access to the 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 his mother she couldn’t get a shot because she’s an undocumented immigrant.
“The first thing they asked was ‘do you have health insurance’. Then they asked for a Social Security number, ”said Araujo, a UCLA student. “Me and my parents looked at each other and my dad said, ‘Isn’t that discrimination against undocumented migrants?”
Then his mother was told three times in Spanish by pharmacy staff, “Undocumented migrants don’t get a vaccine.”
A similar scene took place a few days later in Laguna Niguel, where a woman was denied a vaccination at a Rite Aid after unable to provide a Social Security number.
Neither woman was 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 customers. Both left the pharmacy crying.
Residents of Costa Mesa, Kevin and Yesenia Rager, with their children Even, 5, and Jaden, 10 months, assisted their babysitter after she was denied a COVID-19 vaccination at a Rite Aid pharmacy in Laguna Niguel for lack of social security. has number. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
In the San Fernando Valley incident, after Araujo took to social media to reveal what had happened to his mother, a Rite Aid representative called to apologize and reschedule a March 16 appointment.
“Days later we heard it had 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 ID at a Rite Aid on Crown Valley Parkway. She was told vaccines were a priority for US citizens.
“I felt very embarrassed,” said the woman, who has lived in Orange County for 20 years, and asked if her name should not be used because of her immigration status.
While at the pharmacy, the woman called her employer, Yesenia Rager, who spoke to the pharmacist.
“What is going on?” she asked him.
“Your employee does not have a Social Security number and we give priority to US citizens,” Yesenia Rager said.
The woman has been babysitter of the Rager family for five years since the birth of their oldest child.
Kevin Rager said he got the same response from several people he spoke to at the pharmacy, so he contacted Rite Aid headquarters. He soon received an apology and an appointment for the woman, who was eligible for the vaccine as a caregiver.
“I wondered, how many times else have they gotten away with it?”
Vaccines are available to anyone who meets certain eligibility criteria. The latest criteria, announced Thursday, will increase the pool of people eligible from April 1 to anyone aged 50 and over and from April 15 to anyone aged 16 and over. Vaccinations are free and no insurance certificate is required.
Last Thursday, representatives from the St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in Los Angeles joined numerous labor, immigrant and community organizations for a vaccination clinic and a press conference outside the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor office every two to denounce incidents. They encouraged immigrants to enroll in a COVID-19 vaccine and reminded everyone that vaccinations are available to everyone regardless of immigration status.
Community leaders meeting for the press conference on Thursday said they want the state to take further steps to prioritize key workers, many of them immigrants and minorities who have little choice but to work and are among the hardest hit groups hit 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 turn you away.”