Photo: Isaac Quesada/Unsplash

By KELIN DILLON

Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi) reported on Wednesday, Jan. 27, that 44.9 percent more people died of covid-related issues from January through August of 2020 than initially reported by the Mexican government, adding another layer of discord to the nation’s dismal handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The government previously reported that deaths during the first seven months of the pandemic reached a total of 75,017, while Inegi now says the real figure for that time period was 108,658 deaths.

Inegi’s report also disclosed that Mexico’s mortality rate had increased by 37.9 percent since coronavirus found its way into the country at the start of last year.

Edgar Vielma Orozco, the general director of socio-demographic statistics at Inegi, said that more than 58 percent of covid-related deaths occurred outside of hospitals, hence the mismatch in numbers between the Inegi and the federal government.

Still, many are worried that the government’s under-reporting of the death toll is indicative of larger issues within its response to the pandemic.

Mexico’s vaccine rollout has faced numerous issues to its planned, age-based schedule, with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which has developed the most trusted vaccine worldwide, deciding to lower the amount of vaccines it would ship to Mexico in order to supply more to impoverished countries.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) decided instead to rely on unvetted vaccines like the Chinese CanSino and Russian Sputnik V, of which he announced Mexico’s contract for 24 million doses on Jan. 25, following a “cordial and successful” call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sputnik V and CanSino are both currently in the middle of Phase 3 clinical trials, which are a vital stage to complete before a vaccine’s authorization and distribution.

According to Daniel Salmon, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “Phase 3 trials are critical” during the development of a vaccine.

“Would I be confident about the safety and effectiveness without a Phase 3? Absolutely not,” Salmon told the New York Times

Sonora Senator Lilly Téllez spoke out against Mexico’s contract for Sputnik V, asking, “Why are we getting the Russian vaccine when it has yet to complete (Phase 3) studies and validations, and its (initial) results have not been optimum?”

There is no clarity regarding its efficiency or safety, and there are as yet no Phase 3 studies and the results of its Phase 2 studies were altered,” said Téllez.

Regardless of the potential safety concerns over the untested vaccines, most Mexicans will be left without a choice after many of the available Pfizer doses had already been used up on 10,000 vaccination brigades, AMLO’s pandemic pet project.

The brigades, created to oversee the distribution of the vaccine, each consist of 12 people: two medical professionals, four military personnel, two “servants of the nation,” two welfare representatives and two “volunteers,” most of which belong to AMLO’s National Regeneration Movement (Morena). 

The large size of the brigades took up 240,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine that could have been better allocated elsewhere, since 12 people to supervise the inoculation of a single person is both excessive and inefficient at the same time. The brigades have already proven to be a failure, since several people have reportedly used their influence to obtain early vaccination while in the presence of these teams, which did nothing to stop the corruption.

Of course, since most of the brigades, perhaps bar the medical personnel, are in AMLO’s pocket, they received first priority of the most trusted vaccine on the market, leaving the less-than-ideal options for the rest of the population, including the highly vulnerable elderly community.

Controversy has also arisen over the fact that state governments are required to house and feed the brigades upon their arrival, when plenty of medical personnel are available to do the same job in the region, complicating matters further. 

The brigades haven’t seemed to speed up the mass inoculation of Mexico, with the New York Times reporting only a glacial .1 percent of the Mexican population is being vaccinated per week, compared to 6 percent per week in Israel and 1 percent per week in the United States.

At the current rate, it will take Mexico 105 months, or almost nine years, to vaccinate the entire population, while Israel and the United States will achieve this in only an estimated four weeks and six months, respectively.

Teachers in Campeche, one of the only states considered low-risk enough to resume in-person education, are some of the only people outside of medical personnel and the brigades to receive the vaccine so far, with 12,180 vaccinations applied on Wednesday, Jan. 27, completely defying the government’s original vaccination schedule that was based on age, showing the arbitrariness of Mexico’s priorities.

Another cause for concern about the Mexican government’s priorities has arisen over the fact that the vaccine will seemingly be distributed to rural areas of the nation, like Campeche, before the metropolitan areas, despite the large number of both cases and deaths in its densely populated cities.

On Tuesday, Jan. 26, Mexico City — the nation’s covid infection epicenter — reported its highest number of covid-related deaths in a single day so far, with 365 people succumbing to the virus, bringing the capital’s mortality toll to 27,479, shedding a light on exactly where the vaccine prioritization should go.

As the storm of coronavirus rages on throughout the world, Mexico needs to pick up the pace as soon as possible, lest its vulnerable population be left behind to suffer while neighboring countries, now inoculated, begin to pick up the pieces and move forward. However, with only less than ideal vaccine options available, it remains unclear just how safe Mexico’s mass inoculation will be, regardless of its timing.

…Jan. 28, 2021

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