As the United States seeks to end its coronavirus crisis and outrun variants, public health officials recognize it is essential for as many people as possible to get vaccinated. Making that easy is a major part of the plan. According to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, the vaccine is supposed to be free to everyone, whether they’re insured or not. And the Biden administration has directed all vaccination sites to accept undocumented immigrants as a “moral and public health imperative.” But this promise has not always been fulfilled, ProPublica has found.
At vaccination sites around the country, people have been turned away after being asked for documentation that they shouldn’t need to provide, or asked to pay when they owed nothing.
In part, this has happened as businesses administering the vaccine try to recoup administrative fees they are allowed to charge to the government and private insurers. To aid them in passing along the bill, major pharmacies ask those being vaccinated for their Social Security numbers and insurance information. They aren’t supposed to deny a shot to people who aren’t covered or try to make them pay the fees. But both of those things have happened.
Workers at vaccine sites have also turned away people who they felt didn’t provide sufficient proof that they belonged to an eligible group, demanding to see medical records or other evidence of underlying conditions. While the vast majority of states don’t require such documentation, government officials haven’t always communicated that clearly.
The resulting barriers can be higher for those less equipped to advocate for themselves, such as undocumented people and those who do not speak English. Because of this, even as vaccines have become more widely available, they are still not easy for some of the most vulnerable people to access.
What you should know if you’re an immigrant and want to get your Covid vaccine.
According to the CARES Act, no one is supposed to be charged for the COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC has made it clear that vaccine providers should not charge patients anything, including administrative fees or copays.
- Do I need a Social Security Number or Insurance to Get a Free COVID Vaccine?
Many vaccination sites ask for insurance and Social Security information so they can charge administrative fees to insurance companies or the federal government, but those aren’t requirements for being able to get vaccinated.
- Does my Immigration Status Matter to get a Covid Vaccine?
Immigration status shouldn’t affect eligibility.
- Can undocumented immigrants register and receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes. Regarding whether you need proof of U.S. citizenship to receive a vaccination, the Virginia Department of Health says, “No. Any person living in the U.S., regardless of duration, is eligible to be vaccinated. Proof of U.S. Citizenship is not required.”
An undocumented person should not fear the risk of deportation if registered for the vaccine, according to federal officials.
Some Vaccination sites’ arbitrary documentation requirements have been a barrier for some immigrants to get vaccinated.
After a few incidents in Maryland, a spokesperson for CVS said in a written statement: “No patient, whether they are insured or uninsured, has been charged directly for a COVID-19 vaccine. If a patient does not have insurance, we are required by the Health Resources and Services Administration to ask the patient to provide either a Social Security number or valid driver’s license/state ID #. However, uninsured patients are not required to provide this information in order to receive a vaccine from us.”
A Rite Aid spokesperson, after another incident, said the company advises its employees not to turn anyone away from a vaccine appointment, regardless of whether they have an ID, Social Security number, or insurance. “This was an isolated incident, was a mistake, and did not have anything to do with immigration status,” said Rite Aid public relations director Chris Savarese. “The store staff and regional teams have been retrained on our policy to not turn anyone away.”
- Do I have to show proof of my underlying conditions?
In Nearly Every State, Providers Are Required to Believe What You Say About Underlying Conditions.
ProPublica surveyed all 50 states and found that, among those currently providing vaccines to individuals with underlying health conditions, almost all only require a patient to self-attest that they meet the criteria, and do not require any documentation or proof. Florida is one exception. It limits eligibility to “persons determined to be extremely vulnerable by a physician” and provides a form for doctors to fill out.