The federal government will ramp up Covid-19 vaccination in the five states with the lowest vaccination rates as part of its strategy to blunt the third wave of the pandemic.
Veracruz, Puebla, Guerrero, Chiapas and Oaxaca will have “special treatment starting today,” President López Obrador said at his news conference on Monday morning.
“We’re intensifying vaccination because there’s no other alternative, no other option to confront the virus,” he told reporters in Veracruz city. “The best thing is the vaccine, … if we’re vaccinated we’re protected …”
López Obrador said the efforts to increase vaccination rates will be led by the army in Veracruz and Oaxaca, the navy in Guerrero, the National Guard in Puebla and the Mexican Social Security Institute in Chiapas.
The single-shot CanSino vaccine will be used to avoid having to return to administer second doses to adults who have not yet been vaccinated, he said.
“Complete universal vaccination” even in the most isolated areas of Veracruz, Puebla, Guerrero, Chiapas and Oaxaca is the goal by the end of October, he said, although convincing all unvaccinated people to get a shot – many of whom have already had the chance to be inoculated – will be no easy task.
In Chiapas, for example, many Mayan people have eschewed vaccines, choosing to place their faith in a traditional liquor and a beloved patron saint instead.
Across Mexico, there are some 3.9 million people aged 60 and over who are not vaccinated even though the government has offered shots to all seniors. The figure accounts for about one-quarter of all citizens in that age bracket.
Health Ministry data also shows that some 3.6 million people in the 50-59 bracket – or 29% of the cohort – are unvaccinated, while about 2.4 million of those aged 40-49 – 21% of the cohort – have not had a shot.
Only about one-fifth of Mexico’s population, including children, is fully vaccinated, although 47% of adults have had at least one shot, according to the latest data.
Meanwhile, case numbers are surging as the highly infectious Delta strain circulates across Mexico. More than 13,000 cases per day were reported between Tuesday and Saturday last week before dropping considerably on Sunday, a phenomenon seen throughout the pandemic due to a drop-off in testing and/or the recording and reporting of test results on weekends.
Despite the worsening situation, the government is not advocating the kind of economic restrictions it recommended during the first and second waves, during which much higher numbers of people were hospitalized and died due to an absence of the protection now provided by vaccination.
Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell said last week there would be no “total closures” of public spaces despite the increase in case numbers because people are tired of restrictions, while López Obrador said Monday there would be no shutdowns of businesses because Mexicans now know how to protect themselves from the coronavirus.
“We’ve already received a lot of information [about how to mitigate the risk of transmission of and exposure to the virus], besides … we’re adults,” the president said.
“We have to look after ourselves, not overdo [protection] measures. … The important thing is to save lives but not exaggerate measures that don’t help [stop the spread of the virus] but show … an authoritarian desire.”
López Obrador also noted that the third wave has – so far at least – been less damaging than the first two in terms of hospitalizations and deaths. A majority of recently detected cases have been detected among younger people, who are more likely not to be vaccinated and less likely to suffer severe illness.
AMLO defended the government’s management of the pandemic, asserting that it had found the right balance between guaranteeing freedom, looking after the economy – which shrank 8.5% last year – and protecting people’s health.
However, the government has been widely criticized for its response – especially for not enforcing strict lockdowns and not testing widely enough, and critics point to Mexico’s Covid-19 death toll, the fourth highest in the world, to support their claim.
The official death toll currently stands at 238,424 but that total – like Mexico’s accumulated case tally, which was 2.75 million as of Sunday – is considered a vast undercount. The government itself acknowledged in March that true fatality numbers were almost 60% higher than the official count of test-confirmed deaths.