Despite reassurances from the Home Office, there are increasing concerns that undocumented immigrants will shun the COVID-19 vaccine amid UK immigration data sharing fears. Last month, Workpermit.com reported that the undocumented status of more than one million immigrants in the UK would not affect access to the COVID jab.
However, according to a report published by Sky News, a campaigner has warned that the government’s vaccination plan will be ‘in jeopardy’ if undocumented immigrants don’t come forward to receive the vaccine.
The Sky News report reveals the plight of Ali, an undocumented immigrant in the UK who is too afraid to use NHS services for fear of his personal information being shared with UK immigration authorities. This is despite having a public facing job that could lead to him catching and spreading coronavirus. He said: “There are many like me who are scared.”
Many undocumented immigrants are suspicious of the NHS, which stems from a data sharing agreement between the UK healthcare system and the Home Office to establish whether a visitor in Britain has to pay for any treatment that they receive.
Despite data sharing being limited, and the COVID vaccine being free of charge to every adult living in the UK irrespective of their immigration status, undocumented immigrants remain wary.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) says it has made it clear to NHS trusts across the country that patients receiving the vaccination or testing and treatment for coronavirus are not subject to UK immigration status checks.
Take the COVID-19 vaccine campaign
According to the Sky News report, the ‘Take The COVID-19 Vaccine’ campaign is urging the government to create a public awareness initiative to highlight the availability of the vaccine regardless of immigration status.
Founder of the Take The COVID-19 Vaccine campaign, Kawsar Zaman, said: “The government’s current policy is the right one. However, the practicalities of it don’t work. There isn’t a strategy in terms of a public information campaign to encourage them.”
“The reality is if we can’t encourage this significant minority of people to come forward, it will put our national vaccination programme in jeopardy,” Zaman added.
Mr Zaman has called for vaccines to be provided in neutral centres and administered by charities.
Such a clinic was set up in Bury as a pilot scheme, seen exclusively by Sky News, where undocumented migrants are vaccinated. Those dropping in without legal status in the UK are screened and given help to complete a form.
Clinical lead at the facility, Doctor Fazel Butt, said: “It’s entirely up to the individual how much information they provide. We’re not here to catch anybody out. We’re just here to look after their health.”
During Sky News’ visit to the centre, Doctor Butt vaccinated three undocumented immigrants. He said that it was a ‘poor turnout, but a good start’.
“Hopefully as word gets out, more people will turn up,” Doctor Butt added.
However, he did concede that limited information means that he has no way of knowing the age or risk category of an undocumented immigrant. He said: “We’re taking it on face value. We relied on local knowledge to confirm who they are.”
He did say that getting people back for a second dose of the vaccine could prove challenging if they don’t provide their contact details.
However, the DHSC said: “Patients are booked in for both appointments at the start and do not require another invitation for their second appointment.”
Doctor Butt argued that it’s still unlikely that some undocumented immigrants would return, even for a pre-booked appointment because they’d be suspicious of being led into a trap by UK immigration officials.
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