EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The Mexican government has excluded them from COVID-19 vaccination, so Juarez doctors, nurses and other private hospital workers are looking to the United States for help.
Dozens of these medical professionals and aides gathered Tuesday at a park overlooking the U.S. border to participate in a census the Juarez Doctors College, a professional association, plans to share with officials from both countries.
“We’re asking the U.S. to see if they can help us with the COVID vaccine since Mexico is not supporting (anyone) who works with private hospitals,” said Alejandra, a general surgeon who declined to say where she works. “I did have a little bit of hope […] I’m disappointed, but we know how things are in Mexico.”
The effort is being led by Dr. Lorenzo Soberanes Maya, who says practically every doctor, nurse, nursing aide, lab tech and even the cleaning ladies at private hospitals and clinics are exposed to coronavirus patients or colleagues who care for them.
“It’s not fair not to consider them front-line health workers, especially now that we are having a (COVID-19) spike that we fear may be as bad as the one in October,” Soberanes said. “We want to continue caring for these patients, but we need to be protected. Already we have lost (dozens) of medical workers to the pandemic.” Soberanes said.
He wants the Mexican government to work out a deal with the United States to get the necessary vaccines for all medical workers in Juarez, or for those professionals to cross the border to get them.
Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, Chihuahua state Health Department director in Juarez, said he’s aware of the frustration faced by medical workers who’ve not been inoculated yet. He also knows of some Juarez professionals who live in El Paso and have already secured the vaccine there.
As for the rest, “we are always concerned for front-line workers in private hospitals who are still pending vaccination. It is important that they get theirs. We are working so they can get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Valenzuela said.
In Mexico, the federal government distributes all COVID-19 vaccines and has sent approximately 90,000 to the northern part of the state, including Juarez. Most have gone to front-line medical workers at government hospitals and about 20,000 to senior citizens.
Soberanes said El Paso and Juarez have a symbiotic relationship and, above all, constant interaction. That means it’s in everyone’s best interest to protect as many people as possible on both sides of the border.
“A lot of people come to Juarez on business, to dine, to cut their hair to shine their shoes. This commercial interaction is important, so is health. Allow us to (get vaccinated) in the United States, even if we pay for it. We understand about international protocols, but we need help,” he said.
The U.S. and Mexico this week extended through May 21 the non-essential land border travel restrictions that have been in place since March 2020. Enforcement going into Mexico, however, is random at best, and the U.S. says it can’t deny entry to returning American citizens and legal permanent residents. On the other hand, many of the doctors and nurses in Juarez cannot cross in the U.S.
Soberanes said he’s floated the vaccination access idea to officials in El Paso, but he didn’t name them.
El Paso city-county health authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza said the lack of vaccine accessibility in Juarez poses challenges.
“El Paso area is a tri-state, binational region that regardless of their political boundaries, we share many bonds including familial, economic and disease burden,” Ocaranza said in a statement to Border Report. “We share many ties and people travel back and forth because of work, place of residence, commerce or simply visiting relatives.”
Ocaranza said the COVID-19 vaccine will continue to be administered to individuals who register within the vaccine registry in El Paso regardless of their residency.
“Residency is not a requirement, and we encourage everyone to register for a vaccine to provide the much-needed vaccine to all individuals that qualify, following guidelines dictated by DSHS and CDC,” he said.
Border Report on Tuesday reached out to El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego but did not receive an immediate response.
Editor’s note: This article was updated to include a written statement from El Paso city-county health authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza.