Some indigenous people in Chiapas are eschewing Covid-19 vaccines, placing their faith instead in a traditional Mayan liquor and a beloved patron saint.
Chiapas has the lowest vaccination rate among Mexico’s 32 states with only one in five residents inoculated to date.
The low rate is attributable, at least in part, to religious beliefs and the scant information about vaccination in mountainous regions of the southern state.
Vaccination is such a vexed issue in some Sierra communities, such as the Mayan town of San Juan Chamula, that if an outsider even mentions it to residents, he runs the risk of being detained, led to the town square by a rope placed around his neck and fined 100 to 200 pesos (US $5-$10), the newspaper Milenio reported.
Neighboring Chamula is the municipality of Zinacantán, where vaccination against a disease that has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Mexicans is equally unpopular.
“Everyone agreed not to allow vaccination,” said local artisan Juana Bárbara Vázquez, explaining that people believed that many deaths have been caused by inoculation against Covid-19. “They’re scared,” the 46-year-old told Milenio.
“The truth is I’m not going to get vaccinated either. I think I’m fine as I am because everything is calm here in town, thanks to God nothing has happened to us,” Vázquez said.
She said that most people believe that pox – a traditional corn-based spirit commonly fermented in people’s homes – will protect them from Covid because it’s considered an infallible remedy for all ills.
“We can use pox to cure Covid, we drink it. They say that Covid is killed with [pox] and a lot of people are buying it,” Vázquez said.
“… Besides, San Lorenzo, who is the patron saint of the people of Chiapas, protects us. … Since Covid-19 started [in Mexico] last year, nothing has stopped [here], we haven’t stopped. Covid was very strong in August elsewhere but we celebrated the August 8-10 feast of San Lorenzo normally, with a lot of people,” she said.
“We thought there were going to be a lot of infections, but thanks to San Lorenzo nobody got infected. Many people said they dreamed it – that if we celebrated the feast nothing would happen but if it wasn’t celebrated [a coronavirus outbreak would occur]. Thanks to him we’re alive.”
The San Juan Chamula Civil Protection chief acknowledged that there is strong resistance to vaccination in traditional Mayan communities but explained that authorities are trying to overcome it.
“There is resistance, people don’t yet understand the sense of urgency, that we’re in a pandemic and there is a virus that can affect people’s health a lot,” Francisco Avilés said.
“… We’ve set up [information] booths … to raise awareness among people but I believe they still don’t understand [the importance of vaccination],” he said.
Milenio reported that vaccination sites in larger population centers such as Tuxtla Gutiérrez and San Cristóbal de las Casas are attracting residents, but acknowledged that the numbers are still low compared to cities in other parts of Mexico.
Chiapas is low risk green on the federal government’s most recent coronavirus stoplight map – the Health Ministry has so far failed to update it for the July 19-August 1 period – and has the second lowest accumulated case tally among the 32 states after Colima.
The state has recorded just over 13,000 confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic and almost 1,600 Covid-19 deaths. Chiapas currently has 246 active cases, according to Health Ministry estimates, the third lowest total in the country after Tlaxcala and Aguascalientes.
With reports from Milenio