El Paso county to vaccinate Juarez maquiladora workers starting July 6 at remote border crossing


Officials hope binational effort will speed up reopening of border to non-essential travel

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – El Paso County officials are targeting July 6 for a mass vaccination of factory workers from Juarez at the Tornillo port of entry.

County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said Monday that negotiations with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the General Services Administration have been successful and that the U.S.-run plants in Juarez will be absorbing the cost of the vaccines.

“I believe with all my heart that we need to have regional herd immunity,” Samaniego said at Monday’s County Commissioners meeting. “I can tell you our herd immunity will drop significantly when we open the bridges because of the incredible interaction (on the border). People are ready to come back – those who are non-essential (travelers) are very interested in coming back to our stores.”

The U.S. and Mexico in March 2020 agreed to a non-essential land travel ban, which remains in effect at least through July 21. Merchants in border communities like El Paso have suffered loses because the restrictions keep most of their Mexican shoppers away. One condition that needs to be met for the reopening of the border is for communities on both sides to show high vaccination rates.

El Paso County as of Monday had fully vaccinated 64.3 percent of its residents 12 years and older. A total of 85.5 percent of its seniors also are fully vaccinated. Juarez vaccination rates aren’t available, but newspapers there put the figure at less than 20 percent of the population.

Samaniego said the July 6 vaccination event is likely to run from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. with an estimated 1,500 workers from Juarez being bused to the Tornillo port of entry by their employer. He said four buses would be utilized, coming to the port at 20-minute intervals. A nurse and a human resources rep would ride in each bus. Earlier, county officials said they planned to use the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine for this.

The county judge said 100 Mexican immigration officers have already been vaccinated at the port. “You can imagine at this point in time of the pandemic and they haven’t been vaccinated, you can imagine the crisis they’re going through,” he said of the Mexican officers who routinely come in contact with migrants expelled from the United States. “We were able to do this on neutral ground and not have anyone actually come into the U.S.”

On Monday, CBP said the mass vaccinations would have no negative impact on operations at the Tornillo border crossing.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is pleased to work with our partners in Mexico to facilitate space within the footprint of the (port of entry). We recognize that we are a border community and want to support an effort that will have a positive health impact on both sides of the border,” CBP said in a statement. “The space being utilized as a vaccination site is within the footprint of the border crossing, but is not currently in use for facilitating commercial cargo or travelers into the United States.”

El Paso county officials as of Monday were still waiting for the maquiladoras to make the first deposit. Samaniego said the costs were likely to be 20 percent higher than originally communicated to the executives from Juarez “just to make sure we cover everything.”

He did not know what the cost was nor specified if the July 6 event would be a one-time occurrence, or more likely, the start of a campaign. But he said at least 30,000 vaccines would be made available from El Paso County, with the possibility of increasing that to 50,000 vaccines.

“The more we vaccinate individuals from Juarez (the better) before the bridges open – it looks like July 21 … from what I understand we were this close on June 21 to reopen, but some decisions were made and most had to do with ‘let’s get these vaccinations going forward before we open the bridges,” Samaniego said.

Thor Salayandia, president of Juarez’s Chamber of Industry and Manufacturing, said he’s grateful for El Paso’s gesture and hopes it will lead to the end of non-essential travel restrictions.

“We see this as something that is very positive. It’s an advance in terms of cooperation between our two cities and our two countries,” Salayandia said. “I also want to emphasize the need to reopen (the border) as soon as possible for the sake of our regional economy.”

The 30,000 to 50,000 vaccines represent 10 to 16 percent of all manufacturing workers in Juarez – more than 300,000 people are directly employed by maquiladoras in Juarez, so business leaders there expect the Mexican government to continue sending vaccines to the border as well.

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