Mexican Workers on Border Get Vaccines to Aid Them, and the U.S. Economy

Mexican Workers on Border Get Vaccines to Aid Them, and the U.S. Economy
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Mexican Workers on Border Get Vaccines to Aid Them, and the U.S. Economy

Mexican Workers on Border Get Vaccines to Aid Them, and the U.S. Economy

TIJUANA – They work in factories in Mexico producing goods popular with American consumers. But where American communities are inundated with unused coronavirus vaccines, Mexican workers often struggle to find a single shot.

One recent morning, however, hundreds of workers in factories known as maquiladoras crossed the border into San Diego, without visas or passports, and rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated. An hour later, they were back on the production lines in Tijuana.

The goal was to protect not only workers, but also the closely interwoven American and Mexican economies.

“If the maquiladoras can’t function, then we don’t get our Coca-Cola,” said Lydia Ikeda, senior director of Covid operations at University of California San Diego Health, who helps run the program. “We cannot be isolated.

The cross-border vaccination effort aims to address the kind of disparity in access to vaccines that economists say could hurt all countries: unless privileged countries like the United States share their wealth of Covid vaccines -19 with the poorest countries, according to experts, a solid global economic recovery will remain elusive.

The Biden administration has pledged to share 80 million doses, including four million for Mexico.

But along the US-Mexico border, where a pandemic border closure and lack of vaccines in Mexico threaten to keep the local economic recovery at bay, officials in both countries have found a way to share surplus vaccines from Texas. and California with Mexicans on the other. side.

“We are divided by a virtual line,” said Dr Ikeda, pointing to the border. “Getting them vaccinated is the only way for us to get out of the pandemic. “

For Dr Ikeda, the prolonged pain of the pandemic has only reinforced his belief that to defeat the virus and restore social and economic normalcy, nations must work together.

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At the start of the pandemic, as governments closed their borders and hoarded masks and ventilators, it sometimes seemed like globalization itself was crumbling. Supply chains have dried up, consumers have rushed to find pasta and factories to find computer chips.

For Mexico and the United States, re-establishing cooperation is particularly vital. Two-way trade between countries reached $ 612 billion in 2019. US companies manufacture goods for billions of dollars in Mexico, with maquiladoras assembling hundreds of thousands of Ford cars and Honeywell products each year.

The idea of ​​sharing vaccines with workers just across the border first came to Carlos González Gutiérrez, Mexican Consul General in San Diego, when he saw students and undocumented workers picking berries in the fields of California to receive the vaccine with relative ease while Mexico struggled to provide them for its elderly.

At the same time, as the number of Americans seeking coronavirus vaccines began to level off in May, Johnson & Johnson’s doses neared their expiration date in San Diego County.

“There is something very unfair about my 22-year-old daughter being able to be vaccinated here when people in my country over the age of 60 had to queue for their turn,” Mr. González in an interview.

Mr González reached out to San Diego County officials with a proposal: why not give the nearly expired vaccines to the thousands of Mexican workers across the border?

Soon Mexican and US officials agreed that San Diego’s surplus vaccines, all Johnson & Johnson, would be sold to US companies with factories in Mexico.

In May, San Diego County received permission from the federal government – which holds the vaccines – to sell the vaccines and worked with the Department of Homeland Security to allow visa-free Mexicans to cross the border to receive them.

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The pilot program was launched in late May with US companies including Coca-Cola and Poly, a California communications company that built the helmet Neil Armstrong used to relay the news of his moon landing in 1969. The companies transported their factory workers to the border. , where UC San Diego health workers administered the vaccines in a controlled area.

The companies have also pledged to provide vaccines to the families of their employees and frontline workers in the state of Baja California, where Tijuana is located, administering 26,000 injections by early July.

“The two cities are very interdependent,” said Alex Bustamante, Poly’s senior advisor, of Tijuana and San Diego. “It’s not just about the number of people crossing each day to go to school, shop or visit family. You have fields here in Baja California that feed the United States. Cities cannot be separated.

The success of the pilot program led to its expansion.

Officials in Hidalgo County, Texas, announced this month that hundreds of Mexican factory workers will be transported by bus for vaccination from Reynosa, a town in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, where some 188 000 workers manufacture goods for the global economy. In El Paso, county officials recently announced the launch of their own program, which aims to give up to 50,000 vaccines to workers at the Ciudad Juárez plant in Chihuahua state.

Mexican and local US officials are hopeful that the maquiladora vaccination program will encourage the United States to reopen the land border with Mexico. Its closure has dried up the flow of buyers who used to go to the United States.

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“As much as we think Mexico can depend on us, we depend on Mexico a lot,” said Nora Vargas, supervisor at the San Diego County Board of Directors.

Nearly 200 San Diego businesses along the border went bankrupt last year, Ms. Vargas said.

Families living on both sides of the border no longer travel to attend weddings and birthdays, or to get together for dinner and a movie. One of the last vestiges of the thriving, interconnected life that once spanned the border are Mexican schoolchildren who still enter the United States daily to attend private schools, lunchboxes swinging in hand, free of restrictions.

While Mexicans cannot enter the United States for non-essential travel, American citizens can travel to Mexico, where many go for cheaper dental care or because it is cheaper to live in Tijuana and to get to San Diego, a 30 minute drive.

On a recent day on the San Diego side of the border post, a woman transported a wagon full of boxes of Hot Pockets to Mexico. An older American veteran marched from San Diego County to his apartment in Tijuana while complaining aloud about illegal immigrants and the cost of living in California.

On the Tijuana side, José Alejandro Aguilar Cervantes boarded a bus at the Poly factory, ready to go to San Diego with some 400 other people for a vaccine. After years of unsuccessful US visa applications, he said, he was finally allowed entry, albeit fleetingly.

“I often look across the border, imagining what life is like there,” Cervantes said. “The vaccine will make me feel like we’re a bit like them. “

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