JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – The extension of non-essential land travel restrictions will give Mexican border cities a chance to catch up to their U.S. counterparts when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations, Chihuahua health officials said.

Cities like Juarez have drastically increased their vaccination rates in July, but most people have only received the first of two doses and no one under 18 years old has been inoculated, said Chihuahua Undersecretary of Health Dr. Mirna Betran.

“We do believe the closing of the border has contributed to less (COVID-19) cases. The purpose of the closing was to increase vaccinations on both sides,” she said.

Juarez in early July reported a 31% adult partial vaccination rate. Beltran said more than 600,000 vaccines have been applied since then, so she estimates the partial vaccination rate to be around 80% now. Juarez hasn’t vaccinated those under 18 years of age, yet. By comparison, 72.9% of El Paso County residents 12 and over were partially vaccinated as of Wednesday, while 68.2% were fully vaccinated.

“This gives us a margin of security, of prevention. But those were just the first doses; we need the second dose to achieve an adequate immunity,” Beltran said Wednesday on Facebook Live.

Dr. Mirna Beltran

The non-essential travel restrictions – Juarez residents cannot cross into El Paso, Texas for routine shopping or visit relatives, and El Pasoans are not supposed to do that in Juarez, either – have affected certain sectors of the economy to varying degrees.

Downtown El Paso merchants have seen their sales plummet for the past 16 months but have seen a recent increase in El Paso and New Mexico shoppers. In Juarez, medical services offices also reported a huge decrease in clients from the United States when the restrictions went into effect in March 2020. However, now it’s common to see cars with Texas license plates in their parking lots, as many Americans appear to be ignoring the restrictions.

“We don’t believe these restrictions are preventing infections because U.S. citizens and residents can come and go, while only Mexican residents are barred from the United States,” said Thor Salayandia, president of the Juarez Chamber of Industry and Manufacturing. “Also, if you have money you can fly into the United States, so we don’t understand the criteria.”

Salayandia said it’s time to do away with the restrictions because “most people are vaccinated now” and the business community is hurting.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego earlier this week said he wants the border to be fully reopened and for Mexican visitors to take advantage of the availability of COVID-19 vaccines on the U.S. side. El Paso health officials don’t exclude residents from outside the country from getting vaccines and are in the middle of a massive vaccination effort of Mexican factory workers at the Tornillo, Texas port of entry.

The latest notice of non-essential border land travel restrictions in the Federal Register state they will remain in place until 11:59 p.m. EDT on Aug. 21, 2021, “unless amended or rescinded prior to that time.”