The Department of Homeland Security is administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to immigrant detainees as part of an effort to scale up vaccinations for Covid-19 at Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, ICE told CNN in a statement.
DHS received an initial allocation of 10,000 vaccine doses and nationwide distribution is underway, according to ICE. The doses will be replenished on a rolling basis.
An ICE spokesperson said in a statement that the department “remains committed to a public health guided, evidence-based approach to vaccine education that ensures those in our care and custody can make an informed choice during this global pandemic.”
There were more than 27,600 immigrants in ICE custody as of July 9.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, ICE detention facilities have wrestled with a growing number of positive cases, totaling more than 19,879 confirmed cases and nine deaths. The issue garnered fresh attention last month when three whistleblowers urged the Biden administration to do more to vaccinate immigrants in ICE detention.
The whistleblowers claimed in a letter that DHS had not implemented a comprehensive plan to address the spread of Covid-19 in immigration detention facilities, and criticized guidance putting the onus on detention facilities to contact their states’ vaccine resources, such as state or county departments of health, to obtain vaccines.
“The Biden administration has made great strides in controlling the pandemic in many areas of the country, largely by concentrating on vaccine distribution to the general public. Immigrant detention settings, however, continue to be a significant source of spread for COVID and disproportionate harm to detainees, workers and the public, yet DHS has still not implemented a comprehensive plan to address the spread of COVID in immigration detention facilities,” the letter, directed to committee leadership in Congress, stated.
Leaving vaccine procurement to local health authorities, the letter said, “obscures lines of responsibility and is likely to fail.”
The American Civil Liberties Union had similarly called ICE’s vaccine strategy for the detained population a “failure” in a May letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and acting ICE Director Tae Johnson.
“ICE’s failure to ensure a coordinated strategy for vaccination continues to endanger people in detention nationwide,” their letter read, adding: “Meanwhile, Covid-19 outbreaks continue to spread in detention facilities nationwide, risking the health and safety of detainees despite ICE’s duty to protect those in its custody, in violation of their constitutional rights.”
CNN’s Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.