Answers to Common Questions about Immigrants’ Access to the COVID-19 Vaccines
THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Katherine Lundie and Ben D’Avanzo
Updated November 19, 2021
This article provides answers to common questions regarding immigrant access to COVID-19 vaccines. It addresses information related to documentation requirements, data privacy, eligibility, cost, protected spaces, and rights to translation and interpretation services.
Does a person’s immigration status affect their access to vaccinations?
No — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that vaccines are available to anyone, including undocumented immigrants, without regard to their immigration status. Currently, everyone 5 years of age or older is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Parental consent may be required for children and teens. Adults who have been fully vaccinated with a Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccine may be eligible for a booster shot (state rules vary).
Are vaccinations free?
Yes — Getting vaccinated for COVID-19 should not cost anything. Individuals may be asked for their insurance information, and any health insurance they may be billed for the cost of vaccination, but charges like cost-sharing and deductibles are prohibited. Medicaid will pay for vaccinations for anyone enrolled in Medicaid, including people who have restricted-scope Medicaid (for example, for emergencies or pregnancy).
For people who are uninsured or underinsured, health care providers can bill the federal government through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund or the Coverage Assistance Fund. These funds reimburse providers for vaccinating anyone who doesn’t have insurance that covers the vaccine, regardless of their immigration status. Providers may ask patients for their Social Security numbers (SSN) or government-issued identification because these items help with the reimbursement process, but they are not required, and people can get vaccinated without them.
Will getting vaccinated affect an individual’s immigration status or immigration applications?
No — Getting vaccinated for COVID-19 will not have a negative effect on a person’s current or future immigration status or ability to become a U.S. citizen. Immigrants who are applying to become lawful permanent residents, or otherwise subject to a mandatory medical examination for immigration purposes, are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with a vaccine approved by the World Health Organization unless USCIS grants them a waiver.
Can vaccine providers ask for an ID card, Social Security Number or other form of identification?
Documentation requirements may vary by vaccine provider. While the CDC has stated that proof of state residency or other state residency documentation should no longer be required to receive COVID-19 vaccine, providers may ask for government-issued identification to verify a person’s identity. Some providers allow patients to attest to their own identities.
Although providers may ask people for an SSN or ID, no one is required to provide them to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Providers should inform patients that submitting this information is optional. If a provider insists on receiving documentation that a patient cannot or does not wish to provide, the person can go to another provider, such as a community health center or clinic.
If individuals suspect federal health policies are being violated, they can report them to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General.
Will personal information be shared with immigration authorities or law enforcement?
No — There is a contract called a data use and sharing agreement (DUA) between the CDC and jurisdictions administering COVID-19 vaccinations. This contract requires that data collected from individuals may only be used in furtherance of the COVID-19 public health response. Information about individual vaccine recipients may not be used against individuals for any civil or criminal prosecution or immigration enforcement.
Will immigration officials conduct enforcement activity at vaccination sites or health centers?
No — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has issued new guidance confirming that it will avoid conducting immigration enforcement activities in protected areas that include COVID-19 testing and vaccine sites. The government wants everyone, including people who are undocumented, to get vaccinated and does not want to limit individuals’ access to medical services. Medical facilities where enforcement generally may not be conducted include COVID-19 vaccination sites, testing sites, mental health care facilities, and facilities that provide pregnancy-related services.
If someone speaks limited English, do they have a right to interpretation or translation services when getting a COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes — Civil rights protections help to ensure that people with limited English proficiency can communicate with federally funded healthcare providers. Federal civil rights law protects people against discrimination on the basis of their national origin, which includes the failure to provide interpreter services or translated materials to people who need them. Individuals who feel that they have been subjected to discrimination when seeking or using health care services can file a complaint with the HHS Office of Civil Rights.
Is information about vaccination available in languages other than English?
Yes — The following websites provide information about COVID-19 vaccinations in multiple languages. Your state’s public health website may also have additional resources in multiple languages.
- CDC Toolkit for Migrants, Refugees, and Other Limited-English-Proficient Populations
- Translated Materials Library from the National Resource Center for Refugees, Immigrants, and Migrants
- FDA Multilingual COVID-19 Resources
- A list of each state’s vaccination webpage and information about assistance hotlines for speakers of several languages from the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging.
What can advocates to do improve immigrants’ access to COVID-19 vaccinations?
Despite the policies described above, many immigrants face barriers to vaccination. Advocates can work with their state and local health departments to eliminate burdensome documentation restrictions, increase investments in community-based organizations for outreach, education, and services, and develop higher quality and greater availability of language access services and translated materials. They also can ensure that health departments and vaccine providers understand the existing policies, such as the fact that a person cannot be denied a vaccination because they didn’t provide an SSN or state-issued ID.
Katherine Lundie is a NILC state and local policy analyst; Ben D’Avanzo is a NILC senior health policy analyst.