Medha MakhloufJanuary 2021 — Professor Medha D. Makhlouf recently co-authored an op-ed in The Hill that advocates for the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccine to noncitizens. Professor Makhlouf’s co-authors were Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona and two of her cohort members in the Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity, Dr. Megan Srinivas and Professor Gilberto Lopez. 

The op-ed describes why it is critical to ensure that noncitizens are equitably included in the COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Noncitizens—including those without legal status—are disproportionately employed in essential industries. If they are excluded or deterred from receiving the vaccine, it will place the essential workforce and the larger community at risk. The op-ed urges federal policymakers to follow the recommendations of public health experts to give noncitizens access to the COVID-19 vaccine on the same terms as U.S. citizens, and to assure noncitizens that personal information gathered for public health reasons will not be used for immigration enforcement purposes. 

Professor Makhlouf conceived of the idea for the op-ed during the final convening of the 2020 Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity, in December, just after COVID-19 vaccine distribution began in the United States. Based on her prior work analyzing noncitizens’ fears of accessing health care due to potential immigration consequences, Professor Makhlouf anticipated that noncitizens would be reluctant to obtain the vaccine unless they have access to no-cost vaccines and are assured that vaccine recipients’ information will not be shared with immigration authorities. She discussed her concerns with Dr. Srinivas and Professor Lopez, who agreed to co-author an op-ed in order to bring attention to the issue. They invited Rep. Grijalva to join the effort based on his record of advocating for rational immigration policy. 

Eight days after the op-ed was published, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a Statement on Equal Access to COVID-19 Vaccines and Vaccine Distribution Sites. It “encourages all individuals, regardless of immigration status, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once eligible under local distribution guidelines” and states that neither U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement nor U.S. Customs and Border Protection will conduct enforcement activities at or near vaccine distribution sites.

Professor Medha D. Makhlouf is an Assistant Professor and Founding Director of the Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic at Penn State Dickinson Law. She has a joint appointment in the Department of Public Health Sciences at Penn State College of Medicine. Professor Makhlouf’s research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of health law, immigrants’ rights, and poverty law and policy. Her recent scholarship has been published or is forthcoming in the New York University Law Review, the Northwestern University Law Review Online, and the American Journal of Law and Medicine. Professor Makhlouf’s work is available at