Sarah DeVries
Private-sector doctors and dentists in Mexico City last week protesting the fact that they have yet to be vaccinated. Private-sector doctors and dentists in Mexico City last week protesting the fact that they have yet to be vaccinated.

Let’s forget about optics, Mr. President, and vaccinate all frontline workers

Poor planning isn't going to be solved by pitting groups against each other

I’m seriously considering going home to Texas for a few weeks this summer in order to get vaccinated.

I really had been planning on just waiting it out here. But at the rate things are going, it seems like it could be at least a year before my turn is up. (I won’t be 40 for another few months and just barely miss the cutoff for that age group.)

According to the newly adjusted vaccination plan, my age group that should have been up during the summer is now projected for “sometime between August and March 2022.” Well, hell.

Call me pessimistic, but I’ve learned through experience here that projected timelines even for important projects, like building bridges, get thrown out the window fairly quickly.

It’s like that clown trick where they pull out a handkerchief that’s actually a never-ending string of handkerchiefs. I’m not falling for that one again.

Still, though, I want to be careful about where my criticism lands.

No one invented this horrible pandemic that we’re all stuck in, and I want to show due respect and awe, especially for those who’ve been on the frontlines in a myriad of ways: healthcare workers, people who have worked so hard to figure out ways to push the death toll down, those who’ve continued to work in essential jobs to make sure that the rest of us are not lacking in groceries or medicine or transportation on top of everything else.

Society has managed to keep on running, and not because of me.

No government caused or wished for the pandemic; the pandemic simply happened, and we’ve all been left to deal with it.

Could we all have done things differently? Well, of course. Could Mexico have handled things better, or could it begin right now to handle things better? Oh, certainly.

The reality, however, is that only a few countries with a very specific combination of geographical isolation, political culture, and societal and medical norms have emerged from this relatively unscathed.

And while the speedy vaccine has been nothing short of a miracle of science, we modern humans have come to fully expect speedy miracles, generally becoming grouchy and unappreciative when they’re not delivered right away or lack 100% guarantees.

That said, we can certainly handle this vaccine issue better and be more strategic about who gets it. Here I was, for example, foolishly assuming that all healthcare workers — yes, even private-practice dentists, gynecologists and podiatrists — had been vaccinated before they started on the 60+ group.

Nope! Turns out, that is not what happened at all. So what gives?

President López Obrador, as we all know, is all about fairness …. his version of what he thinks fairness is, but still. It’s a quality that I’d long admired in him but that has left me quite jittery lately since I’ve discovered that we have some fundamental differences between us on whom we consider to be the losing parties among the various dichotomies of Mexican society.

While I’m no scholar on the president, I can confidently say this: AMLO is a man who tolerates few grey areas; everything is black and white. Media = bad. Private industry = bad. Not poor people = bad. (I’d say “rich people,” but even the ever-shrinking middle class seems to not garner much sympathy.)

Is his heart in the right place? Honestly, I still believe that it is, as misguided as I believe many of his ideas to be. But his unwillingness to be flexible really throws buckets of unnecessary wrenches into things. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: no one can be a genius expert on everything, and that’s OK.

Being a good leader, then, means surrounding yourself with people much smarter than yourself for specific policy advice in those areas where you’re lacking.

Of course, make sure that they have similar values to yours: a respect for human and environmental rights and an eye toward the ultimate goal of a peaceful and just society, for example. But from there, tag-team it, people. You need a lot of brains on these things. No one expects you to be an all-knowing supreme leader. Citizens vote for leaders, not gods. Loosen up.

A couple of weeks ago, my dismay was focused on the government’s insistence that the CFE was the “little guy victim” in the energy sector. This week, my alarm is directed toward the fact that so many healthcare workers, especially private healthcare workers, have not been vaccinated; indeed, the president told them last week to “wait their turn” (by age group).

At this point, I’d like to tell you what percentage of healthcare workers the private sector represents, but, surprise! I can’t.

You know why not? Because the government doesn’t have a good headcount. The government doesn’t have a headcount. Private healthcare associations are trying to scramble together a census on their own.

I’m sorry, what?

The implication of what the president said — at least in the way I interpreted it — is that private healthcare workers are undeserving of prioritized vaccines because they’ve chosen to make money off sick people rather than selflessly help them through the public system instead, which is about the most cynical message I think I’ve heard all month (and there have been some doozies!).

The rest of us know, however, that the public system is severely lacking in many areas. As is, there are simply too many people in need of too much care within an institution that doesn’t have nearly enough resources to adequately care for them all. The quality of the workers is fine; there just aren’t enough of them or enough space or enough medicine.

Mexico’s various public systems have many hardworking, dedicated people in them. But just like the education sector, the infrastructure sector and the energy sector, they simply can’t adequately meet the demand on their own. There are too many of us and not enough of them, nor a robust and efficient enough system to accommodate everyone.

So what do we do? If we can, we make space by enrolling our children in private schools. We pay a toll to use the nice highway. We buy a car to avoid overcrowded buses. And instead of waiting one to six months to see a doctor at the public hospital, we go to Dr. Simi (i.e., the pharmacy) or, if we feel it’s more serious, we see a private specialist.

As often happens, AMLO’s teammates were left to explain how what the president told private healthcare workers was both right on the money and also wrong at the same time. According to Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, for example, there is no distinction in the vaccine rollout between private and public healthcare workers; they’re simply trying to get to the “frontline” healthcare workers first and only have accurate registries for those in the public sector.

OK, fine. So they have to “wait their turn” by age group because somebody else forgot to identify all the workers? Then say that, Mr. President — or at least say that you’re on it because it’s important; don’t say that those who’ve been working tirelessly for over a year as they watched countless patients and loved ones drop dead around them are acting like petulant children for insisting they deserve something they don’t. They do.

Can we also talk about what “frontline” means? Yes, by all means, get to the people who are working directly with coronavirus patients first. Agreed! But even though other medical specialists don’t specifically treat them, just the sheer volume of people they come into contact with daily in enclosed spaces greatly increases their risk of catching the disease, as it does for everyone that must come into contact daily with large swaths of the public.

Can we get grocery store workers and market vendors next in line?

Let’s forget about optics for a while and go for the biggest impacts. Send brigades to every hospital and clinic to camp out for a few days (start with the biggest, or the hardest hit — just make it fast). Do the same at grocery stores and markets. Put out a call for all private practitioners in a community to receive their vaccines just by showing their professional documents.

The virus is evolving and putting out new variants, and we’re running out of time.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sdevrieswritingandtranslating.com.

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