Bus driver helping Mexico’s most vulnerable gain access to vaccines

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

Mexico City, Mar 4 (efe-epa).- Alejandro has been driving a public bus in Mexico’s capital for eight years, but the service he is now providing – transporting elderly people from peripheral areas of this sprawling metropolis to a Covid-19 vaccination center – carries special meaning.

One of his customers, Jose Joaquin Tapia, wore a straw hat over his white hair as he boarded the “pesero” (urban minibus) on Wednesday in the community of Santiago Tulyehualco for a trip to the center of the southeastern Mexico City borough of Xochimilco, where vaccines are being administered to people 60 years and older.

“I’m hopeful because really what you want is to not go through this (Covid-19) because it’s a death sentence,” the 62-year-old man told Efe on Thursday while fidgeting in his seat with child-like impatience.

“It’s a matter of public health no matter what people think, and if you get vaccinated you help (ensure) that nothing happens to others,” he added.

Tapia was referring to the belief that the vaccinations can not only prevent serious complications from the disease but also halt the spread of the coronavirus, although the World Health Organization says clinical trials have not yet shown conclusive evidence that the vaccines prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2 nor protect against transmission to others.

The sink and refrigerator repairman will receive his first of two vaccine doses a few days after Mexico, which has registered 2.1 million cases and 188,000 Covid-19 deaths (third-most worldwide), marked one year since its first confirmed coronavirus case.

Although he joked that death would relieve him of his debts, he said he was confident that his time has not yet come.

Authorities in Xochimilco have supplied buses, vans and taxis to pick up elderly people from churches in remote communities and transport them to the inoculation center at no cost.

“I’m satisfied, and we all have to do our part in some way to be able to move forward,” said Alejandro, a 34-year-old driver who transports the elderly to the vaccination center in the mornings and then works his regular route in the afternoons.

Depending on traffic, it takes just under an hour for the bus to cover the 12-kilometer (7.5-mile) distance between the communities of Santiago Tulyehualco, San Luis and San Gregorio and the Xochimilco Sports Center, where the vaccines are being administered.

Although it has the same old-fashioned green and white exterior as the other peseros circulating in that metropolis of 22 million, Alejandro’s vehicle is noticeably less jam-packed with passengers.

On the journey to get vaccinated, roughly 10 people climb on board and find a seat with no difficulty as the bus bounces along on bumpy roads.

One of the passengers getting a ride from Alejandro on Wednesday was 73-year-old Julia Sesmas, who was boarding the vehicle along with other individuals whose last names start with S, T and U.

Wearing both a face mask and face shield, Sesmas said she had heard about the bus service on television and was “grateful to God” for this means of transportation, adding that she was at ease because all went well with her husband’s vaccine shot the day before.

“It was my husband’s turn yesterday and he told me how he’s feeling, that he felt good. So that’s why I’m more confident about going,” said Sesmas, who said she does not believe the rumors circulating in her community about the vaccine’s supposed ineffectiveness.

Her only wish as she steps off the pesero is that the Covid-19 vaccine’s side-effects are not as severe as those of the flu shot, which she said leaves her bed-ridden for two weeks.

After a delay of several weeks, Mexico began vaccinating people over the age of 60 on Feb. 15 and has prioritized remote or underprivileged communities.

Thanks to its contracts with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, CanSino, the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology and Sinovac Biotech, the Mexican government’s goal is to achieve the milestone of 15 million adults vaccinated by the end of April and thereby drastically reduce the death rate from the pandemic.

A total of 1.2 million elderly people have received their first dose of the vaccine to date, 200,000 of whom live in six outlying boroughs of Mexico City where inoculations sites have been set up.

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