Who is responsible for vaccinating immigrants in California’s detention centers? Neither state officials nor federal agencies have taken responsibility.

In the midst of this chaos, one county, San Diego, has already taken action and sent doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to a local detention center. But another county, San Bernardino, is awaiting instructions from state health officials on when detainees will become eligible for shots.

Because detainees are in federal custody, state health officials said last week that they aren’t sure who is responsible for vaccination at the detention centers.

“I will tell you very transparently right now, the answer is I don’t know,” California Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris, who chairs the state’s vaccine advisory committee, told committee members on Wednesday. “There are some real complex jurisdictional issues that are at play.”

That same day, while visiting a vaccination clinic in Riverside County, Gov. Gavin Newsom said detention facilities are “operated uniquely and distinctively from the state.”

So far, 571 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in California’s seven immigration detention centers, including 270 at the Adelanto facility in San Bernardino County. One detainee died of COVID-19 at the Otay Mesa facility in San Diego County, according to ICE’s COVID-19 tracker.

Meanwhile, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say that while its medical staff may help administer the vaccinations, it’s up to states and local health departments to come up with the doses and a plan for vaccinating detainees. Six of California’s seven centers are operated by private companies.


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