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Mexico’s overlooked health care workers told to ‘wait’ for vaccine

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Yucatán health officials vaccinate adults 60 and older in Tetiz, Mayapan, Telchac Puerto and Tepakán. Photo: Courtesy

Mexico’s vaccination policy bypasses medical staff in private hospitals and the president says that they “need to wait.”

Most other countries battling the pandemic agree that health care workers should get vaccinated first. But in Mexico, the populist president tends to prioritize public-sector facilities.

Mexico leads the world in health-worker deaths during the pandemic. Their colleagues, who were passed over for inoculation in favor of rural elderly residents in December and now school teachers, are protesting by blocking main roads and the president’s national palace.

“They need to wait,” said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. “We’ll all get the shot.”

The government said it initially included private front-line healthcare workers, but efforts to reach all of them were complicated by unreliable staff registers, according to the Reuters news agency.

Mexico has given some 11.4 million shots. That includes a first dose for 7.3% of the population. Just 1.6% are fully vaccinated, Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker indicates. About 900,000 of those have gone to health care workers in the public sector.

Lopez Obrador and health undersecretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell have focused medical-worker vaccinations only in public hospitals’ front lines. Others, including paramedics who work in ambulances, continue to serve coronavirus patients without the benefit of inoculation.

“We just don’t understand the government’s priorities,” said Miguel Mata, who heads an association of 15 ambulance providers.

World Health Organization guidelines call for protecting health workers to protect “the availability of a critical essential service” as well as to pay them back for the risks they take for the sake of others.

Bloomberg News reported that Mexican ophthalmologist David Berrones is leading an effort to collect data on unvaccinated colleagues. Since last month, more than 30,000 medical staff have added their names. At least 12,000 indicated that, with jobs such as family or pharmacy physicians, they make first-contact with patients and should be eligible for the vaccine. Only seven people who signed have gotten vaccinated since.

Berrones says many other health workers, who don’t have access to social media, are also waiting.

“It’s a mistake to think that the vaccines should be just for a fraction of health workers,” he said by phone. “It’s the health workers who are your first point of contact, not only those who are necessarily frontline workers, who have died most around the world.”

An estimated 233,152 Mexican health care workers have caught the virus, and 3,699 have died from it, as of April 5. That is the highest count in the world, followed by the U.S. with 3,607 deaths.

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