UC Getting COVID-19 Vaccine

June 7, 2021

Unaccompanied Children & The COVID-19 Vaccine

As the surge in border crossings continues, here's a look at how the govt. is caring for minors taken into custody during the pandemic.


  • Some minors (17 years and younger) come to the U.S. alongside a parent or legal guardian, but most arrive *alone* or with a person the govt. deems unsafe (ex: trafficker, smuggler).
  • “Unaccompanied children” (UC) is what the govt. calls minors without lawful immigration status *and* no U.S. parent or legal guardian *available* to provide care and custody.
  • NOTE: UC were previously referred to by the govt. as UAC (unaccompanied alien children).

What To Know:

  • The govt. apprehends those crossing the border illegally and must transfer UC w/in 72 hours to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), part of the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS).
  • HHS is legally obligated to promptly place UC "in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child." As their legal status is sorted out (ex: applying for asylum), the govt. places *most* UC with “sponsors” (usually parents or close relatives living in the U.S.); others remain in ORR facilities.

UC Care & Custody:

  • In addition to being responsible for UC's safety, housing, and education, ORR is also responsible for providing medical services.
  • UC are screened for evident health issues (ex: lice, scabies) when they're apprehended.
  • UC w/o proof of certain vaccines (ex: mumps, measles, rubella, chickenpox) typically receive those vaccines while in ORR's care.
  • After last month's authorization of the Pfizer COVID vaccine for minors as young as 12, HHS updated its guidance concerning vaccinating eligible children.
"The law is clear about our need to make sure kids are safe and that their wellbeing needs are met … ORR has always provided needed vaccinations for all children in our care and custody, and we are working site by site to ensure that the COVID vaccine is also made available as part of that suite of medical care to every eligible child.”

Acting Asst. Secretary for the HHS Administration for Children & Families, JooYeun Chang, on the newly updated HHS guidance concerning vaccinating eligible children.


  • It's not clear when ORR began administering COVID vaccines to UC in their care.
  • On June 9, the Acting Asst. Secretary for the HHS Administration for Children & Families said "hundreds" of children in Texas facilities have received a COVID vaccine.
  • ORR pays for the medical care and screenings for UC. It hasn't released any information regarding how much it costs to administer vaccines to UC, but Pfizer's vaccines cost the U.S. about $19.50 per dose.

Some have raised concerns about consent, citing state laws (which generally require parental consent for vaccines unless a minor is living apart from their parent or legal guardian), and question whether the govt. – tasked with acting in the best interests of the children in their care and custody – should make the decision about whether these minors should receive the COVID-19 vaccine authorized by the FDA for emergency use.

CARD 2 & 3





by Jenna Lee,