What you need to know about getting the COVID-19 vaccine if you’re undocumented
Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I’m undocumented? What ID do I need to show? Here’s what you need to know.
It’s clear that the pandemic isn’t going to go away soon — and getting vaccinated remains an important tool in warding off COVID-19.
But if you’re undocumented, getting the vaccine can seem complicated.
Federal authorities have said that vaccines are open to everyone “regardless of immigration status.” So, if you are an undocumented person who is otherwise eligible to receive the vaccine, your immigration status won’t prevent you from being vaccinated.
“You are eligible to receive this vaccine,” says Jana Lenart, a COVID-19 outreach specialist with Philadelphia-based immigration services and resettlement organization HIAS Pennsylvania. “It’s in the public health interest to help get us out of this pandemic that we make sure everybody who lives in the U.S. has access to the vaccine.”
But you may have other concerns about getting the vaccine. “These often come from decades worth of mistrust that has been bred in the health-care system, as well as in the immigration system,” Lenart says. “That can be a powerful influential factor.”
If you have concerns about getting vaccinated opening you up to immigration enforcement, if English isn’t your preferred language, or you want to know how it will affect your status, here is what you need to know:
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Will the vaccine cost me anything out of pocket?
No. Getting the vaccine should not cost you any money, regardless of whether you are undocumented or not, or whether or not you have health insurance.
If you have insurance, your insurer will be billed for the cost of the vaccination — and if you are enrolled in Medicaid, that service will pay for the vaccine. If you are uninsured, providers will be able to have the federal government pay for it through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund, according to the National Immigration Law Center.
“These vaccines are free, and you should not be charged for either the vaccine itself or the cost of the provider providing you with that vaccine,” Lenart says. “If you don’t have health insurance, you’re not going to be billed — you’re not going to have to pay a single penny.”
What ID do I need to show?
That depends on the individual provider or vaccination site, Lenart says.
Some places ask for information like your social security number (if you have one), or identification such as a state ID or driver’s license. Others may ask you to prove that you are a resident in the area by showing a piece of mail, such as a utility bill.
But providing a social security number is “absolutely not a requirement” to being vaccinated or to provide it to be vaccinated, Lenart says. Some providers, like those who use the Provider Relief Fund, are required to ask for it, but not having one shouldn’t prevent you from getting a vaccine.
And in lots of cases, no identification is required. In Philadelphia specifically, vaccination sites run by the Department of Public Health do not check for city residency, and do not require identification or social security numbers, says department communications director Jim Garrow. Additionally, he says that the city has asked pharmacies in Philly to not ask for identification as well.
“We ask that folks do give us their real name, so when they get any future doses or need to present their vaccine card, their correct name is shown on there,” Garrow says. “But we do not check or confirm their name, and have never checked or confirmed their citizenship status.”
What if English isn’t my preferred language?
In Philadelphia, “every city-run clinic has access to telephonic interpretation and translation services,” says Garrow. “Folks are asked to approach any staff member and they will be connected to someone who can help,” Garrow says. You can find a list of city clinics and pop-up vaccination events here.
But language access can be a big challenge, and providers having translation services is often case-by-case, Lenart says, and finding clinics with translation services for less-common languages has been a challenge. In those cases, she adds, it may be up to you to find the space that best accommodates your situation.
If you need help:
Check with other community members
Reach out to immigration organizations, such as HIAS Pennsylvania or the Philly-based Nationalities Services Center.
If you want information about the vaccine in other languages, check the CDC’s COVID-19 Communication Toolkit for Migrants, Refugees, and Other Limited-English-Proficient Populations.
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Is ICE allowed at vaccination sites?
No. Neither Immigration and Customs Enforcement nor Customs and Border Protection are able to “conduct enforcement operations at or near vaccine distribution sites or clinics,” according to a February announcement from the Department of Homeland Security.
As a result, immigration enforcement “will not be at or near any vaccination clinics,” Lenart says, and getting vaccinated will not increase the likelihood of deportation.
Can the provider share my information with authorities?
No. The information you give will not be used against you. This is because of a “data use and sharing agreement” with the CDC and jurisdictions where vaccines are being administered. That information can only be used to expand the public health response to COVID-19.
“Information that’s collected for the purpose of vaccines cannot be used for any civil, criminal, or immigration-related enforcement,” Lenart says. “It does not put anybody — especially undocumented immigrants — at greater risk of deportation.”
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Will getting the vaccine affect my public charge status?
No. Getting vaccinated won’t impact your ability to get a green card or become a naturalized citizen in the future, says Lenart. A DHS statement in March noted that “medical treatment or preventative services for COVID-19, including vaccines, will not be considered for public charge purposes.”
“That’s the big concern — that it could affect [your] eligibility,” she says. “But it absolutely does not.”
Jana Lenart, COVID-19 outreach specialist with HIAS Pennsylvania.
Jim Garrow, communications director for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
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The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.