Rite Aid turns away illegal immigrants for COVID vaccines, issues apology

Two female illegal immigrants were turned away from Rite Aid pharmacies in two separate incidents in Southern California. Now the pharmacy retail giant is issuing a public apology to both women and reassuring the public that they will receive vaccinations.

This isn’t the first time COVID-19 vaccines have been denied to illegal immigrants at pharmacy locations. A spokesman for Rite Aid noted that only two complaints have been lodged against the company though it has given over a million vaccinations.

Rite Aid spokesperson Christopher Savarese described both cases as “isolated” incidents resulting from workers at the stores not following established protocols for vaccine eligibility. The employees will be re-educated on the protocols to make sure everyone is on the same page, he said.

“We’ve administered over 1.2 million vaccines and have had two of these complaints,” Savarese said on Sunday.

In a statement later sent to ABC News, Rite Aid officials said, “In such an unprecedented rollout, there are going to be mistakes and there will be always areas for providers to improve — we’re seeking out those opportunities every day.”

Savarese added, “This is very important to us that this is corrected. Both of the situations that we’re talking about have been resolved, and both of those people will be getting their vaccine at Rite Aid.”

A UCLA student studying to be an immigration lawyer took the story to a local ABC News affiliate when his mother was denied a vaccination. She was asked to show a Social Security card and could only produce her foreign consular identification. Sebastian Araujo says if his mother was turned away, there are others who are being turned away, too, though he offered no proof of that charge. He posted on social media after the situation was corrected and his mother received a vaccination.

A babysitter’s employer in Orange County also reported a problem with the babysitter receiving a vaccination. She was rejected twice on the same day.

Rager said his employee even provided Rite Aid with an out-of-state identification and a letter he wrote verifying she watches his children. But the pharmacist at a Rite Aid in Laguna Niguel, according to Rager, insisted on seeing the woman’s Social Security card and inaccurately told her that vaccine priority goes to U.S. citizens.

“These questions shouldn’t be asked of any individual, and our entire country needs to get vaccinated. So, I don’t see why somebody should be denied when they actually want to get a vaccine,” Rager said.

No word on if he’ll help correct his babysitter’s legal status in this country. The documentation that the pharmacy employees were asking to see – Social Security cards – is the catch here. The cards are a way of proving legal status in the United States but the Biden administration has bent over backward to insist that citizenship isn’t needed to receive the vaccines. As a matter of fact, you may remember that Biden originally floated the idea that his administration would vaccinate terrorists being held at GITMO as a first priority while senior citizens and other first-tier Americans waited. Biden, Kamala, and DHS administrators have all stressed in public statements that a lack of legal status isn’t a hindrance in receiving a vaccination.

On Feb. 1, the federal Department of Homeland Security issued a statement that the agency and its “federal government partners fully support equal access to the COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine distribution sites for undocumented immigrants.”

“It is a moral and public health imperative to ensure that all individuals residing in the United States have access to the vaccine. DHS encourages all individuals, regardless of immigration status, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once eligible under local distribution guidelines,” the DHS statement reads.

As I mentioned, Rite Aid pharmacies in California aren’t the first to apologize for turning away illegal immigrants for COVID vaccinations.

However, the confusion over whether undocumented immigrants qualify to receive vaccine has continued to occur not only in Southern California, but elsewhere in the country. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley issued an apology to at least 14 people who were rejected Feb. 20 at its vaccination site because they could not provide proof of U.S. residency.

I’ve received the first shot of the Pfizer vaccine. My second shot is scheduled in two weeks. I don’t recall being asked for my Social Security number when I signed up. I don’t think I was even asked any questions about health insurance. I do remember being asked for my birth date and if I am a front-line worker or teacher. So, reading about employees asking for proof of legal residence in California is odd. The government is making the vaccine available without residency requirements or insurance requirements. I literally only showed confirmation of my appointment and my photo id – my driver’s license – and that was it. A lady took my temperature and pointed me to the elevator to take me up to the area set up for vaccinations.

It doesn’t look like anything nefarious on the part of pharmacy employees, though an activist like the immigration law student likely wants us to think it is. It looks like a training issue. The United States, led by Donald Trump, generously made COVID vaccines available to anyone living here from the time the vaccines became available. It’s a public health decision. It is to everyone’s benefit that those around us are vaccinated against the coronavirus, especially until herd immunity is reached.