HOUSTON – Oren Murphy is a former minesweeper for the U.S. Navy and 60 years later, he is navigating the deadly challenge of COVID-19.
“I just dread getting anywhere around it, because I know if I get it I’m probably gone,” said Murphy from inside his Conroe home. At 83 and with bad lungs Murphy desperately wants a vaccination.
He’s not alone.
Others in our area are too, which is why our investigation stunned many. KPRC 2 Investigates discovered foreign nationals who have traveled to Houston and elsewhere are getting vaccinated.
Dr. Joseph Varon of United Memorial Medical Center says he first heard of foreign nationals receiving vaccines intended for Texans here in Houston at the end of last month.
“I get text messages every five minutes of people from all over the world, uh hey, can you set us up with the vaccine,” Varon said.
Following a roundtable meeting with public officials on Tuesday, we asked Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom about foreign nationals out of the county on hospital databases who are receiving vaccines.
“You raised an issue, to be honest, we have not yet delved down into,” Boom said.
During the roundtable, Gov. Greg Abbott praised Methodist for how it is distributing the vaccine in the community saying, “Houston Methodist has helped Texas become a national model for the vaccination program.”
However, when we asked the governor about foreign nationals receiving vaccines ahead of Texans, he said, “It’s clear that the vaccines the state of Texas has, or the providers in the state of Texas (have), those vaccines are intended for Texans”
Mexico City-based Dr. Gabriel Rodriguez Weber told KPRC 2 Investigates that, “without a doubt, many are doing it.”
As for who is traveling? “All of those with economic means or that have a contact,” said Weber who admitted to being aware of at least ten cases where Mexican nationals flew to Houston, San Diego, New York City and Miami to vaccinated.
Earlier this month Ana Rosenfeld, a celebrity lawyer from Argentina, received the vaccine in Miami. KPRC 2 Investigates spoke with Rosenfeld’s representative in Buenos Aires who confirmed she received her first dose while on vacation.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis wants to put what is being called “vaccine tourism” to an end.
“It’s not for people (who) are just visiting,” DeSantis said on Tuesday.
Data from Florida reveals more than 38,000 people from out of state received first doses. On Wednesday, some Florida counties began requiring proof of residency to get vaccinated.
“We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line,” said DeSantis.
Back home in Houston, Boom told KPRC 2 Investigates, “There have been 60,000 people vaccinated. If a few have fallen through the cracks, that is hardly the largest issue that we are dealing with.” He also said his system will check their database.
On Thursday, Methodist acknowledged it has “vaccinated a few dozen” people from Mexico claiming the patients “live here or have been in Houston” for a long time. But, let’s not forget what Abbott clearly stated: “Those vaccines are intended for Texans.”
Michael Arrigo, a Harvard trained medical ethicist -- who has testified for the feds in cases involving medical fraud -- spoke with KPRC 2 Investigates after learning what we uncovered.
“If it’s going to the wrong people using taxpayer-funded resources, that is a high visibility issue and it’s a problem and it needs to be corrected,” Arrigo said.
Varon’s takeaway over the practice?
“If the government of the United States is providing vaccines for the entire world, it is not an abuse. If the government of the United States is providing vaccines only for those who live in the United States then it’s an abuse.”
When asked if it’s the former or the latter? Varon said, “It’s the latter.”
How does all of this sit with 83-year-old Oran Murphy as the U.S. Navy veteran waits for his vaccination? “Not very well. Not well at all.”
This investigation has been generating many comments on Click2Houston.com and KPRC’s Facebook page. If you have a tip surrounding what Channel 2 Investigates uncovered email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.