COVID-19 vaccines and undocumented migrants: international guidelines

International and regional public health and human rights bodies have, since the end of 2020, been vocal about the need for inclusive and equitable vaccination schemes, as a matter of public health, fairness and human rights; and have published guidelines about how to achieve this for people with irregular migration status, who have long faced major barriers in accessing health care.

For instance:

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance from June 2021, “Striving for equity in vaccine access should be a guiding principle for all countries to adequately protect groups experiencing greater burden from COVID-19 disease irrespective of legal status including refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons (IDPs), migrants, stateless persons, as well as people living in areas under the control of any non-state armed group.”

International human rights experts have highlighted that: “In the context of establishing criteria for vaccines prioritization, attention must be given to those migrants who are most exposed and vulnerable to the SARS-COV-2 due social determinants of health, such as migrants in irregular situations, low-income migrants, migrants living in camps or unsafe conditions, in immigration detention, migrants in transit.”

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has documented seven main barriers to migrants’ access to COVID-19 vaccines including administrative or policy barriers, informational barriers and mistrust, and fear of arrest or deportation. In December 2020, the IOM had called for full inclusion of migrants, regardless of status, in national vaccination strategies.

The European Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) devoted a report to increasing uptake of the COVID-19 vaccines among migrants, noting that “onsideration needs to be given to ensuring equitable access to and uptake of testing for COVID-19, and for COVID-19 vaccines, particularly in migrants excluded from, or facing barriers to accessing health systems”, noting the “urgent need to share models of good practice and lessons learned from across the Region.” Moreover, “or migrants who face barriers and exclusion from mainstream health systems – including undocumented migrants, asylum seekers/refugees, and those residing in camps and detention facilities – mechanisms will be required to ensure they are meaningfully included in national response plans to reduce transmission.”

For an overview of international and regional guidelines on inclusive responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.