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No Longer Able To Cross The Border, Some Former Plasma Donors Can't Get Their 2nd Vaccine Dose

A healthcare worker from the El Paso Fire Department administers the Moderna vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in El Paso
A healthcare worker from the El Paso Fire Department administers the Moderna vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a vaccination centre near the Santa Fe International Bridge, in El Paso, Texas, U.S May 7, 2021. Picture taken May 7, 2021. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Pedro Garcia was a regular blood plasma donor when he received his first dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine at Biomat, one of Grifols' many blood plasma donation centers on the South Texas border. Now, he and other donors are no longer allowed to enter the United States by land to get fully vaccinated because of a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announcement and their former donation center's inaction.

For Garcia, this means a loss of supplementary income and, more importantly, his ability to get fully vaccinated.

“There are many other people who are in the same situation as me,” he said in Spanish.

On June 15, CBP announced the decision to deny entrance to nonimmigrant visa holders who crossed to donate plasma for compensation — which was one of the few reasons nonimmigrant Mexican nationals were allowed to enter during the pandemic. The announcement states the border closure does not apply to medical treatments or uncompensated donations.

“It’s not a matter [of violating my visa], it’s a matter of health,” Garcia said.

He heard they were allowing people in for their second dose, so he took his CDC vaccine card and visa documentation to try to cross. But things didn’t go as he had hoped. Garcia and more than 100 other donors were excluded from a list of people who were allowed to enter, even with proof they had already gotten their first shot.

“I said I got the vaccine and they told me well I wasn’t on the list so I had to go back,” Garcia said.

Mexico doesn’t administer the Moderna vaccine. Before the border closure, the donation center told Garcia if he got any of the shots that were only authorized in Mexico, such as AstraZeneca, he couldn’t donate. Partially because of this, he ended up getting the Moderna vaccine at Biomat, not knowing border policy would change before his second appointment. Now he’s stuck waiting to either get his second dose or letting the first one go to waste.

On a private donor Facebook page, people who donated at CSL Plasma, another big donation corporation with multiple locations in the valley, were on the list. Garcia said officials at his donation center, which Grifols run, told him CBP's list was from the entity that administered the vaccine at the center but has been unable to tell him who this entity is.

Garcia said he’s been trying to find out how to get on the list for two weeks. His second appointment was scheduled for June 22 and he knows time is running out.

“I’m going to lose the first vaccine they gave me,” he said regarding the time frame one has after their first dose to get their second.

This policy only applies to people who enter the U.S. by foot or vehicle. CBP said he could still fly in and get the shot. But that’s an expense he and many other donors can’t afford.

“[I want to say] don’t limit my being able to cross to get vaccinated, but I’m afraid if I complain, they’ll take away my visa or detain me or put me in jail.”

Editor's Note: In a statement to TPR following the publication of this story, Grifols said that it did not sanction vaccinations at Biomat located on N 10th St, McAllen, TX.

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Carolina Cuellar reports for Texas Public Radio from the city of McAllen where she covers business and border issues. Her position is made possible by Report For America — a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.