The vaccination of seniors against Covid-19 is underway in marginalized, mostly rural municipalities across Mexico after 870,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University shot arrived Sunday from India.
Health Ministry official Ricardo Cortés said Sunday night that the inoculation of seniors would begin 8:00 a.m. Monday in 1,081 vaccination centers in 333 poor municipalities located in all 32 states of the country.
Thirteen-member brigades made up of doctors, nurses, government social program employees, volunteers and members of the military will be responsible for the rollout of the vaccination program to seniors. Some 1,080 brigades were to swing into action on Monday.
The commencement of the seniors’ vaccination program comes after a first shipment of AstraZeneca, two-dose vaccine manufactured at the Serum Institute of India arrived at the Mexico City airport.
An additional 1.16 million doses are expected to arrive from India in March, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement, while Mexico has an agreement to purchase more than 77 million doses to be manufactured in Argentina and bottled here.
The 870,000 doses, purchased for US $4 each, were taken to facilities of state-owned vaccine company Birmex for inspection prior to distribution across the country via air and land.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard, who was at the airport to receive the vaccines, noted that the shipment is the largest Mexico has received to date. Indian Ambassador Manpreet Vohra said the consignment is the first to reach Latin America from India.
President López Obrador announced Sunday that the initial shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines would be used to inoculate seniors in isolated and poor communities where there is scant medial infrastructure to treat Covid-19 patients.
Speaking at a press conference in Oaxaca, he stressed that all seniors – and all Mexicans – will be immunized free of charge but priority has been given to those who live in “the most remote, the poorest and the most needy communities.”
“We’re beginning in 330 municipalities … with these characteristics, all the seniors of those municipalities will be vaccinated. The next delivery will cover other municipalities, also from [all] 32 federal entities,” López Obrador said.
The president noted that vaccination will also begin Monday in the Mexico City municipalities of Milpa Alta, Cuajimalpa and Magdalena Contreras. He cited the Cañada region of Oaxaca and the Mixteca region of Puebla among the areas where vaccines will be administered starting today.
He predicted that the country’s approximately 15.7 million seniors will have received at least one vaccine dose by the middle of April, two weeks later than previously anticipated.
Millions of vaccines from Russia and China are expected to arrive in the coming weeks, while further shipments of the Pfizer/BioNtech shot, which has been used to inoculate health workers, are also slated for delivery, including a lot of almost 500,000 doses on Tuesday.
Speaking at the Health Ministry’s coronavirus press briefing on Sunday night, Cortés said the government had decided to prioritize vaccination in rural areas over cities because the “epidemiological impact” of administering the limited number of doses Mexico currently has would be minimal in urban areas – even though they have been hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.
“If we focused first on covering all the urban areas, with just 870,000 doses at the moment, the epidemiological impact that those 870,000 doses would have would be practically non-existent,” the health promotion chief said.
“… If we focus on vaccinating the 3 million older adults in the more remote rural areas, we will probably have … everyone vaccinated [with a first dose] in one or two weeks,” Cortés said, apparently overstating the pace at which vaccines are likely to be administered.
“… we’ll reduce the risk for people who are highly vulnerable due to their geographic location,” he said.
“[People in rural areas] have a lower probability of finding a secondary level health service or intensive care if they need it than people who live in urban areas,” Cortés added.
“… The decision has been taken to complete the vaccination in remote rural areas … to cover people who are highly vulnerable in that regard more quickly.”
In addition to health workers and seniors, other sectors of the population that can expect early access to Covid-19 vaccination include teachers, dentists, people with chronic illnesses and athletes who will represent Mexico at the Tokyo Olympics to be held in July and August.
“The demand of dentists [to be vaccinated] is legitimate, just as we have the necessity to vaccinate teachers to protect them for the return to in-person classes,” López Obrador said Sunday.
“We also have to vaccinate the sportspeople who will represent us at the Olympic Games, all of them, and we have to do it now because the [event] is approaching and then the people with chronic diseases aged under 60 – people with high blood pressure, diabetics, those who suffer from obesity,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mexico’s coronavirus case tally is on the verge of reaching 2 million after 4,099 new cases were reported Sunday, pushing the accumulated total to above 1.99 million. The official Covid-19 death toll rose to 174,207 with 436 additional fatalities registered.