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Rio Grande Valley man denied COVID vaccine due to citizenship status

Abraham Diaz’s father arrived at his Feb. 20 appointment only to be turned away because he doesn't have a social security number.

EDINBURG, Texas — The Texas Department of State Health Services, in an effort to vaccinate as many people as possible, has no citizenship requirements for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Yet, a 61-year-old man in Rio Grande Valley, with pre-existing conditions, was turned away last week. That man is Abraham Diaz’s father.

“I sat down with him over dinner and I asked him, ‘Do you want to take the vaccine? There's an opportunity,’” Diaz said. “And he said, ‘Yes, let's sign me up, let me know what I need to take.’”

Diaz said he registered his father with UT Health Rio Grande Valley in November or December.

“This is an important thing, you know, with the whole pandemic going on,” he said. “For me, it was a priority because he's 61 years old, he has high blood pressure, he's pre-diabetic.”

The appointment was set for Saturday, Feb. 20.

“The person that was there asked him his full name, his date of birth and then asked him for his Social Security number,” Diaz said. “He said, 'I don't have a social security number.'”

“They said, ‘We can't give you the vaccine. This is only for U.S. citizens or people that have a social security number,’” Diaz said his father described.

“There's no citizenship requirement to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Chris Van Deusen, Director of Media Relations for DSHS. “The public health reason for that is really pretty simple. We want people living and working in Texas to be vaccinated. That's the best way we have to slow the spread of COVID-19 and make sure that everyone is protected.”

Van Deusen said the department has twice-weekly webinars for vaccine providers, where eligibility is often discussed. We asked UT Health RGV for an interview, but instead, we received a statement:

“UT Health RGV was made aware Saturday (Feb. 20) that it did not follow the most current State of Texas guidelines that all eligible patients, despite their place of residence, be administered a COVID-19 Vaccine.

"UT Health RGV apologizes to those patients who were affected at Saturday’s vaccine site. We are reaching out to provide those patients with an appointment at their earliest convenience.

"UT Health RGV has administered over 20,000 vaccine doses so far, and we look forward to adhering to the expanded guidelines to serve more members of our community.”

“He was very angry and really upset that they denied them just because of his immigration status,” Diaz said.

Diaz said he's working to get his father a new appointment with another provider.

“The biggest thing that my dad wants is that undocumented folks are not turned away,” Diaz said. “That they're able to get this vaccine just as equally as anybody else that has the age requirements and the underlying condition requirements met.”

DSHS told KHOU 11 that a social security number or citizenship was never required to receive the vaccine.

In a follow up, UT Health RGV told KHOU 11, “…the issue was our misinterpretation of the guidance we received. It was our fault; not the fault of those providing guidance. Fortunately, we have a clearer understanding now and have implemented changes to our process that will allow us to serve more people in our community.”

UT Health RGV said it was aware of approximately 14 people who were affected by their errors. All of them have been rescheduled or being contacted to be rescheduled.

DSHS said it hasn’t heard of other instances such as what the Diaz family experienced, but if they do happen, email DSHS at coronavirus@dshs.texas.gov.

Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security said the federal government supported equal access to COVID19 vaccines for undocumented immigrants.

DHS encouraged everyone, regardless of immigration status, to receive the vaccine once they’re eligible under local guidelines.

Credit: UT Health Rio Grande Valley
Credit: UT Health Rio Grande Valley