Photo: Miguel Á. Padriñán/Pixabay

By KELIN DILLON

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has whimsically changed the course of the country’s scheduled universal vaccination program, altering it as he sees fit in a wing-it-as-you-go strategy.

The nation’s original vaccination schedule was set up in five concurrent stages, beginning with frontline health workers, followed by everyone over the age 60.

The next two stages were set to cover people from ages 50 to 59 and 40 to 49, respectively, with the remaining portion of the population scheduled for vaccination in the fifth and final stage.

In early January, López Obrador announced the creation of 10,000 vaccine brigades to help speed up the mass inoculation of Mexico. Each brigade consists of 12 people: two medical professionals, four military personnel, two “servants of the nation,” two welfare representatives and two “volunteers,” i.e., government cohorts. 

AMLO then revealed that each and every member of the brigade would be vaccinated against coronavirus, which would use up 120,000 doses of the vaccine that had previously been prioritized for the elderly and actual healthcare workers. 

“Everyone who belongs to the brigades will be vaccinated to protect them,” AMLO said on the morning of Monday, Jan. 18, during his daily press conference. 

With most brigade members, particularly the “servants of the nation,” belonging to AMLO’s National Regeneration Movement (Morena), allowing them prioritized vaccination is a clear demonstration of favoritism.

“This is an ethical issue, nobody can jump or skip the line,” López Obrador said later in the same press conference, ironically after announcing the brigades would be doing exactly that.

And, surely, two medical personnel should be sufficient to administer the vaccine to a single person. A group of 12 (including four armed soldiers) to supervise the process is beyond excessive — and it takes away the vaccine from the people who need it most.

Mexico’s elderly population needs the vaccine urgently, with people over age 60 having suffered the most deaths by coronavirus in the nation by far when compared to any other age group.

Not to mention, every member of the brigades is on a government salary, so the exaggerated size of the brigades is also sucking up an unnecessary amount of government funds that could better be allocated elsewhere, for a job that could be done with considerably less people’s involvement. 

While the ridiculously large brigades have had no problem receiving their vaccinations, many physicians certainly have: Olga Ponce, who works in Mexico City’s Hospital Angeles, for example, has been seeing over 15 coronavirus patients per day at their homes throughout the pandemic, and still has not yet received the vaccine, despite her constant exposure to the disease while caring for the sick. 

AMLO notably publicized his disdain of Mexico’s medical community last May, implying Mexican doctors are crooked and only care about money, perhaps showing why the medical community does not receive the same priority as López Obrador’s brigades.

Following the green light covid-19 risk categorization in the southern Mexican states of Campeche and Chiapas to resume in-person classes, teachers in these states have also been bumped up to priority vaccination ahead of the elderly, once again demonstrating the arbitrary standards of the scheduled vaccine program.

Reports have also come in across the country of “influential” persons using their positions to obtain the vaccine ahead of schedule, including in the states of Sonora, Tabasco, Guerrero and Baja California, resulting in the termination of several officials. Brigades were present for some of this corrupt activity, and their failure to prevent these abuses of power beg the question as to why they even exist if they don’t fulfill their sole function of proper supervision of the vaccination program.

Following all the controversy, the head of Mexico’s vaccination program, Miriam Veras Godoy, resigned on Sunday, Jan. 17, due to “personal reasons,” though speculation has arisen she left due to the continual arbitrary changes made to the inoculation schedule, something which AMLO and his officials, of course, have vehemently denied.

Another wrench was thrown into the nation’s inoculation schedule when López Obrador announced on Saturday, Jan. 16, that Pfizer-BioNTech would be reducing the amount of vaccines sent to Mexico, in favor of sending them to more impoverished nations, as proposed by the United Nations.

AMLO previously promised the nation that he had a contract with Pfizer, considered worldwide the most reliable vaccine on the market, for 3.4 million doses, which he has now backtracked on.  

Instead, López Obrador decided to fall back on vaccinations from other companies. such as the Russian Sputnik V, of which 400,000 doses are expected to arrive in Mexico next week. The Russian vaccine, however, has not yet been approved by the Federal Commission for Protection against Health Risks (Cofepris), and is likely not up to the same standard as the renowned Pfizer vaccine.

Cofepris is under the control of the Mexican Secretariat of Public Health, which will no doubt order the organization’s rapid clearance of the vaccine’s administration without a second thought.

Other suggested vaccines by AMLO include the Chinese CanSino, and the British AstraZeneca, sponsored by Mexico’s own famed businessman, Carlos Slim, which face the same comparison issues as Sputnik V to Pfizer.

Now, with only less-proven vaccine options available, questions have arisen about just how effective the population’s inoculation will be with the use of these secondary vaccines over the already-proven Pfizer.

As of Monday, Jan. 18, 468,708 Mexicans, or .37 percent of the population had received covid vaccinations, ranking Mexico as the 12th-highest vaccination rate in the world.

AMLO said he aims for 14.1 million of Mexico’s population to be vaccinated by March. However, considering the complete dysfunction and disarray of the vaccine schedule thus far, no one should hold their breath about that actually happening.

…Jan. 20, 2021

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