Eying border reopening, Mexico begins J&J vaccine rollout in Baja California

By Carlos Zuñiga

Tijuana, Mexico, Jun 17 (EFE).- Mexico on Thursday began administering a shipment of 1.35 million Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines donated by the United States, a rollout in the northwestern state of Baja California that is aimed at reopening a border closed to non-essential travel for the past 15 months.

Baja California – including Tijuana, the country’s largest border city with more than 1.9 million inhabitants – became the first Mexican state with vaccines made available universally to all adults 18 or over.

Authorities set up 16 vaccination points in the state’s six municipalities – the capital, Mexicali; Tijuana; Ensenada; Playas de Rosarito; Tecate; and San Quintin.

The Health Secretariat’s goal is to administer all 1.35 million, single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines over a period of 10 days.

Great anticipation surrounded the rollout, with hundreds of people – most of them young adults – waiting in line starting Wednesday night in hopes of being among the first to be inoculated against Covid-19, a disease that is blamed for more than 8,500 deaths in Baja California, one of the hardest-hit Mexican states.

“(Young people) should get vaccinated. It’s important to care for your health, and you have to respect the pandemic,” 18-year-old Evelin told Efe after being vaccinated in Tijuana.

Mexico’s government initially said the first shipment of Johnson & Johnson vaccines that arrived Tuesday from the US would be used to inoculate all adults in the country’s 39 northern border muncipalities.

But it was later decided to use them exclusively in Baja California.

“Baja California, at the president’s instruction, is the first (territorial) entity that will have universal vaccination of (people) 18 years and older,” Mexican security chief Rosa Icela Rodriguez said Thursday during President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s regular morning press conference.

With Mexico ranking fourth worldwide in Covid-19 deaths (more than 230,000) and having recorded nearly 2.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, Lopez Obrador is banking on getting the situation under control with an accelerated vaccine rollout.

Since December, however, Mexico has only administered just over 38 million doses of different vaccines; and only around 15 million Mexicans are fully immunized thus far in a country of 126 million inhabitants.

US Vice President Kamala Harris offered the Johnson & Johnson vaccines to Lopez Obrador, popularly known as AMLO, who pledged to acquire more doses as part of a special program aimed at convincing the US to reopen the countries’ shared border to non-essential travel.

“This is a special program because these vaccines have arrived (in Mexico) and we want to vaccinate the population of the 39 border municipalities so the border can be opened as soon as possible,” AMLO said Thursday.

Mexican authorities are aiming for a mid-July return to normal at the border, which had $1.7 billion worth of two-way trade and around 1 million legal border crossings per day prior to the pandemic. EFE


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