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EDINBURG, Texas – UT-Rio Grande Valley says it will not deny undocumented immigrants a COVID-19 vaccine, after all.

The university made the decision after coming in for criticism for turning away elderly residents who could not provide a social security card.

“On Saturday we were made aware through tweets that three individuals, that I know off, were turned away at our vaccine site at Edinburg because they couldn’t verify that they were residents of the U.S.,” said UTRGV Associate Vice President Patrick Gonzales.

In a statement, the university said: “Based on guidance recently obtained from State of Texas officials, UT Health RGV will no longer have to verify the residency of eligible patients who have registered to receive the COVID-19 vaccine from UT Health RGV.”

UTRGV pointed out that it has already has administered more than 20,000 doses of the vaccine since December. 

“The new guidelines will make it easier for UT Health RGV to vaccinate more members of the Valley community,” the university said, in a news release.

The news release stated: “Anyone who already has registered with UT Health RGV to receive the vaccine but has been turned away because of their current residency should email [email protected] to be rescheduled for the shots.”

UT Health RGV’s vaccination registration remains temporarily closed to new registrants, until it can serve the more than 55,000 individuals who initially registered. UTRGV said 

UT Health RGV said it will reopen registration once the current registrants have been served and once the supply of vaccines provided by the State of Texas meets the current demand. 

The response from UTRGV on giving vaccines to the undocumented is still not good enough, says community group La Unión del Pueblo.

The group launched a petition Monday calling on UTRGV to “take immediate action to provide transparency and correct its unethical denial of lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines to Valley residents without documents.”

LUPE staff member Abraham Diaz hit out on Twitter Saturday after UTRGV turned away his undocumented father from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“UTRGV has apologized and said their error was requiring proof of place of residence based on outdated state guidance. But UTRGV’s explanation doesn’t add up,” LUPE communications director John-Michael Torres said. “It ignores the fact that a social security number has nothing to do with place of residence. And it raises questions about how many undocumented community members UTRGV turned away before Abraham courageously spoke out.”

In response, Diaz said: “UTRGV did not deny my dad based on proof of residence – they denied him based on proof of immigration status. They humiliated him by denying him lifesaving care and then announced it in front of other patients. Someone at UTRGV made the decision to deny the vaccine based on immigration status because my mother, who is in the same situation, received her vaccine at another provider without issue. UTRGV has given out over 20,000 doses. How many undocumented folks have they denied in that time? UTRGV must immediately make this right.”

The LUPE petition calls on UTRGV to “take immediate action to quickly right this wrong publicly and implement measures to prevent it from happening again.”

Within 48 hours, LUPE said, UTRGV must:

1. Release the name of the official who decided to implement this policy, under what circumstances they implemented it, and how many people were denied based on the policy;

2. Pledge to not deny any eligible person based on immigration status;

3. Quickly launch an education campaign in Spanish with the message that the vaccine is for everyone, regardless of immigration status.

“Medical care must never depend on your immigration status. UTRGV must address this urgent issue by Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 4 PM CDT to ensure no more time is wasted to protect all people in the Rio Grande Valley,” Torres added.

Editor’s Note: Click here to read and sign the LUPE petition.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Dr. Linda Nelson (right), a Doctor of Nurse Practice (DNP), RN, pediatric nurse practitioner and senior director of Clinical Operations for the UTRGV School of Medicine and UT Health RGV, instructing Brownsville native Clarissa Chavez, a second-year physician assistant studies student at UTRGV, on how to administer the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, at the Medical Education Building in Edinburg. (Photo: UTRGV/Paul Chouy)


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