Fact Check: Are Undocumented Immigrants Ineligible For the COVID-19 Vaccine?

President-elect Joe Biden announced his $1.9 trillion plan to tackle the coronavirus pandemic on January 14. It would include $1,400 individual stimulus checks, a $15 federal minimum wage and $20 billion to invest in a national vaccination program, according to the New York Times.

Newsweek reported that the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines were authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December. There is a limited supply of the vaccines, but the New York Times reported that 9.7 million people have received at least one dose of either vaccine and 1.3 million people have been fully vaccinated, meaning they received two doses.

Those vaccinated include people in nursing homes and long-term care centers, frontline medical workers, members of Congress and both President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

States are beginning to launch the next phase of vaccination distribution, including people who are 75 or older and "frontline essential workers."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), such workers include "first responders (e.g., firefighters and police officers), corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work in the education sector (teachers and support staff members) as well as child care workers."

Many people on social media have pointed out that a large percentage of essential workers are undocumented, raising the issue of whether these workers are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Undocumented workers are helping us get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

They are the farmworkers picking our food, the healthcare workers in hospitals, the custodial workers keeping everything cleaned, the grocery store workers and more. pic.twitter.com/OOfblB5i4C

— America's Voice (@AmericasVoice) January 10, 2021

The Claim

On January 4, Nebraska Republican Governor Pete Ricketts was asked if undocumented workers in the state's meatpacking facilities would be receive vaccinations as part of the next phase of distribution.

He claimed that he did not "expect that illegal immigrants will be part of the vaccine with that program" because "you're supposed to be a legal resident of the country to be able to be working in those plants," according to the Washington Post.

📍NOT ELIGIBLE FOR VACCINES—GOP @GovRicketts of Nebraska says undocumented workers at meatpacking plants will not be eligible to receive #COVID19 vaccine, which could disqualify 14% of Nebraska’s meatpacking workers.

➡️Stupid. Idiotic. Dangerous policy.

— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) January 5, 2021

The governor's communications director, Taylor Gage, clarified that what the governor meant was that "Nebraska is going to prioritize citizens and legal residents ahead of illegal immigrants."

Though Ricketts continued to claim that none of the people working in Nebraska's meatpacking plants are undocumented, the Migration Policy Institute shows that undocumented workers make up approximately 11 percent of the workforce in meatpacking plants in Nebraska.

Even after Gage's clarification, the question remains: Are undocumented immigrants eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccines?

The Governor’s statement this morning was that illegal immigrants are not allowed to work in meat processing facilities and therefore will not be receiving the vaccine in that context. https://t.co/pMbyYPthlB

— Taylor Gage (@gagetaylor) January 4, 2021

The Facts

"As far as I know, the federal government has not stated that undocumented immigrants are ineligible for the vaccine," Dr. Ranit Mishori, senior medical adviser at Physicians for Human Rights and professor of family medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine, told Newsweek in an email.

"However, it appears that some states may pursue policies to discriminate against undocumented people during the vaccine roll-out. This is misguided from a public health standpoint and unethical, given the disproportionate death and illness experienced by undocumented immigrants–many of whom are the essential workers who keep the country running–during the pandemic."

Part of Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus plan would be used to "try to ensure that people can receive shots free regardless of immigration status," according to the New York Times.

@JoeBiden's American Rescue Plan stipulates that the vaccine will be available to all regardless of immigration status. The Administration on Day 1 must call the Governor of Nebraska and tell him to knock it off. Undocumented essential workers must be prioritized. Full stop.

— Christian Arana (@christianarana) January 15, 2021

Throughout the country, officials have promised to provide vaccines to people who are undocumented. According to NJ.com, New Jersey plans to vaccinate 4.7 million people in the next six months, including people who live out of state, students who travel to and from New Jersey and undocumented workers.

In California, Los Angeles County Supervisor and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis told undocumented residents that they will have access to the vaccine.

LA County Supervisor @HildaSolis assures undocumented residents they will be able to get the #COVID19 vaccine. "Those who are undocumented should be at the front of the line. They are essential workers and they have been incredibly impacted by the pandemic," she says. @KNX1070

— Claudia Peschiutta (@ReporterClaudia) January 11, 2021

Multiple news outlets have reported on some of the requirements to receive a COVID-19 vaccine that are causing fear among people who are undocumented.

According to the Washington Post, the Trump administration is requiring that states submit personal information for everyone who is vaccinated by signing data use agreements with the CDC. Such information could include a person's address, date of birth and race/ethnicity.

The Washington Post also reported that the reason for these data use agreements is "to ensure that people who move across state lines receive their follow-up doses; to track adverse reactions and address safety issues; and to assess the effectiveness of the vaccine among different demographic groups."

New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo objected to the requirement to share people's personal information in a letter posted on Cuomo's official website, www.governor.ny.gov, from December 1 to Department for Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that was signed by a coalition of groups also concerned with the data use agreements.

"The federal government requires that a Data Sharing Agreement be executed by state governments before commencing the vaccination program," Cuomo wrote in the letter. "The current Data Sharing Agreement provided by the federal government requires identification of each person who is vaccinated–the federal government suggests that states use Social Security numbers, driver's license identification numbers, or passport numbers to fulfill this requirement.

"This provision obviously raises concerns, as the proposed criteria are all proxies for proof of citizenship. The concern is exacerbated by an additional federal provision in the Data Sharing Agreement specifically providing that the information could be shared with other federal agencies, i.e. the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If undocumented Americans are dissuaded from participating in the vaccination program, it would jeopardize both their health and the efficacy of the entire vaccination program."

The Washington Post reported that officials from the administration said the information won't be shared with other federal agencies.

The Vaccine Administration Data Agreement from the CDC says the following on sharing information with other agencies:

"As set out in the purpose of the background and purpose of the DUA (Data Use and Sharing Agreement), the use of vaccine administration data will be limited to completing work in furtherance of the public health response to COVID-19.

"Since data may only be used in furtherance of the public health COVID-19 response, data about individual vaccine recipients may not be used to market commercial services to individual patients or nonpatients, to assist in bill collection services, or for any civil or criminal prosecution or enforcement, including, but not limited to, immigration enforcement, against such individuals whose information is shared pursuant to this DUA."

I guarantee you that the virus doesn't care whether somebody's documented or not.
Dr. Jonathan Fielding

Like in New York, officials in Minnesota were concerned about sharing people's personal information and will submit data to the CDC that doesn't have any identifying details.

According to USA Today, another obstacle is the Trump administration's 2019 Public Charge rule, which has been challenged in court but is still enforceable.

USA Today reported that officials can consider immigrants' use of various public benefits, including Medicaid, to determine whether individuals can be granted green cards or become lawful permanent residents.

As of January 15, more than 380,000 people have died from COVID-19 in America. According to the CDC, communities of color have been at a higher risk from COVID-19 due to "long-standing systemic health and social inequities."

"I guarantee you that the virus doesn't care whether somebody's documented or not," Dr. Jonathan Fielding, distinguished professor of Health Policy and Management, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and distinguished professor of Pediatrics, UCLA Geffen School of Medicine said in an interview with Newsweek.

"We are immunizing people both for their own safety and health but also to try to reduce transmission."

The Ruling


Undocumented workers are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Many people who are undocumented are fearful of getting vaccinated because they are concerned that their information will be shared and result in their deportation.

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A stock image shows a vaccine being prepared in front of the U.S. flag. Experts have described the vaccine roll-out in the U.S. as "extremely poor." Getty