Vaccinations in Chiapas: A Failed Strategy, a Latent Danger

Residents of the southeastern state of Chiapas are not showing up for the covid-19 vaccines. Photo: Aquí Noticias


MORELIA, Michoacán — Just a couple of days after Mexico broke its own covid-19 vaccine applications record, with a total of 1,376,213 doses applied in a single day, the government’s much-touted national immunization plan is beginning to show signs of erosion.

The problem: In certain parts of the country — particularly in the southeastern state of Chiapas — people just aren’t showing up to get the shot.

In recent, Mexico’s third wave of covid infections has exemplified the disparity in the number of people vaccinated in the different parts of the country.

While in the central and northern parts of the country the vaccination schedules have been incessant and insufficient given the high demand by the population, in the south of the country, an adverse situation is occurring because the local people are refusing to get vaccinated.

Despite the fact that Mexico ranks fourth worldwide in terms of  covid deaths — behind only the United States, Brazil and India — a massive misinformation campaign and general mistrust in some sectors of the population have generated aversion to and rejection of the covid immunization process.

This situation is worrisome both for local health authorities and international health organizations since, given the scarce inoculation of the local populations, the risk for the emergence of new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is latent and eminent.

The figures are staggering: While northern Mexican states, such as Baja California and Tamaulipas, have registered high percentages in inoculations, with 79 percent of the adult population having received at least one dose of a vaccine, other states, particularly Chiapas, show only a 23 percent advance in the adult vaccination process.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the spreading of misinformation and rumors among the population of this state has been a major concern for the Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) administration

At least 150 indigenous communities — composed mostly of Tzotzil Maya, Tzeltal, Tojolabale and Chole — reside in the southeastern Mexican state, and they have steadfastly denied the very existence of this virus, claiming it is an invention of the government.

Consequently, they have refused to receive the vaccine.

In the case of the tiny municipality of San Juan Cancuc, for example, with a total population of 44,000 (mostly of Tzeltal Maya origin), the local community leaders decided that the vaccination strategy against the covid-19 was counterproductive and should not be implemented. When the federal government’s covid vaccine brigades showed up to give the shots, only two people from this town bothered to be vaccinated.

Faced with this worrying situation, at the start of the year, the local government of San Juan Cancuc implemented a series of promotional media campaigns to encourage residents to receive the vaccine, ensuring them that the medication is totally safe and constitutes the only viable way to prevent complications and deaths caused by the coronavirus virus.

The campaign went over like a lead balloon, especially in Chiapas’ rural areas.

Consequently, the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) and the IMSS and local health authorities launched a new two-for-one strategy in the second half of July. The program encouraged younger residents to bring an elderly relative with them to be immunized together.

So far, the strategy has not made much difference. The people of Chiapas continue to reject the idea of covid vaccinations.

López Obrador has expressed his concern at the failed vaccination strategy in this region and recognized that the organization and logistics of the vaccination program in Chiapas has not been effective.

Chiapas, along with several other states in central and southern Mexico, including Guerrero, the State of Mexico, Oaxaca and Veracruz, concentrate 63 percent of the country’s population living in extreme poverty, according to government statistics.

In Chiapas, 29.7 percent of the population — 1.6 million people — live below the extreme poverty line, hindering their access to basic services such as food, housing, education and, yes, health.

Those Chiapanecos who do contract the disease will be less likely to receive the urgent medical care and attention they will need to survive it.

In short, Chiapas is a medical disaster waiting to happen.

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