A Juárez resident receives a COVID-19 vaccination. (Photo by Rey R. Jauregui)
By Karen Cano/La Verdad
This story was originally published in Spanish by La Verdad.

Due to her age and the initial letter of her last name, Sonia Campos was assigned the morning schedule to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on April 14. But she did not show up.

The 67-year-old woman refused her turn in the first day of open vaccinations for senior citizens living in Ciudad Juárez, the town most affected by the pandemic in the state of Chihuahua.

“The problem is that the vaccine was AstraZeneca and, well, I heard that it was suspended in the United States,” said the retired Juárez resident, who said she remains virtually in isolation as a precautionary measure against the virus, which has led to 2,984 deaths and 30,415 cases in Ciudad Juárez up to April 20, according to data from health authorities. (The United States government has not approved the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in this country, though it is widely used in Europe, where a small number of recipients reported experiencing blood clots after receiving the shot. The Biden administration agreed to send millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico.)

Campos is not the only one who decided not to get vaccinated against the coronavirus for fear of suffering side effects. Oscar Medrano Martinez also said he decided not to go for his first dose out of distrust.

“The truth is, I don’t have much confidence in the vaccine because I have gotten others, like that for influenza, and the only thing that happens is that it affects me much more,” says the 71-year-old, who prefers to confine himself to avoid infection.

Widespread COVID-19 vaccinations began earlier this month in Ciudad Juárez. (Photo by Rey R. Jauregui)

The Mexican federal government sent a batch of 114,000 AstraZeneca vaccines from the United States to Ciudad Juárez, with which it hoped to cover the population older than 60 years of age during sessions that took place from April 12 to 16. Of that amount, 95,500 doses were applied, according to information provided by federal authorities.

 Elizabeth Guzman Argueta, regional delegate of welfare programs, said the unused doses were protected for later application.

The results of the recent population and housing census 2020 of the National Institute of Geographical and Informatics Statistics (INEGI) show that 134,989 people over the age of 60 live in Ciudad Juárez.

Based on this data and the number of doses applied, it is estimated that more than 39,000 older adults did not receive the vaccine against COVID. It is unknown how many people did not show up or refused vaccination at the national level.

On Tuesday, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador issued a statement to instill trust in older adults, who “for some concern” are remaining unvaccinated, “We are sure that there is no risk, no danger.”

He said that “nothing is done by force, everything is by reasoning.”

The call was launched during his morning press conference, where the president got the AztraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

”If they decide not to receive the vaccine,” Lopez Obrador said, “they are free and they are in their right.”

Five vaccine brands have been distributed in Mexico in the national strategy for immunization against the SARS-CoV-2 virus: Pfizer BioNTech, AstraZeneca, SinoVac, Sputnik V and CanSino, the latter requiring only a single dose.

AstraZeneca, which requires two doses to immunize, was sent to Ciudad Juárez,. The brand raised red flags for some people such as Campos, who said that she does not trust the brand because she read it could cause side effects. She decided to wait until later.

Campos said she read some articles where they reviewed the withdrawal of several batches for side effects or outbreaks of thrombosis in some European countries and that it is kept in storage in the United States because its use is not yet approved.

“I heard that it was suspended in the United States, that there are issues with thrombosis; I know that there are a few, I know that it is one among millions, but I do not know if I will be one of those,” she said.

She added that she suffers from hypertension and diabetes, and this health condition makes her more afraid of suffering from adverse reactions that could incapacitate her and make her lose her independence if she becomes ill and has to be helped by her children.

“I have at least three friends who did not get the vaccine for the same reason and I think we would be willing if they offered us another one; I would be interested above all in the one dose brand,” she said.

A Juárez nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccination. (Photo by Rey R. Jauregui)

Medrano said that at first he rejected the vaccine because the locations were far from Colonia Bellavista, where he lives, and did not want to risk going out into the street.

“Moreover, I honestly do not have much trust in the vaccine, because I have gotten others like the flu and the only thing that happens is that it affects me much more, I get the flu more severely and with a lot of pain in my bones. It’s already been two years since I last got it for those reasons,” he says.

Unlike Campos, Medrano said nothing can convince him to get vaccinated. He said he had several questions about the decision to vaccinate older adults first.

“They say that children and older adults are the most vulnerable, why not vaccinate children and then all those homeless people who haven’t gotten sick? There are a lot of senior citizens on the streets downtown, aren’t they going to get vaccinated?” he said.

Wendy Avila Coronado, deputy director of preventive medicine and health promotion, said people who did not receive the vaccine in the initial session would have the opportunity to do it again when other first doses arrived.

She says that the day of second doses for older adults is still pending.

According to the strategy of open population vaccination, the vaccine will be given to active teachers in the state of Chihuahua by the end of May and then to people aged 50 to 59 years.

“We must remember that a person who has just been vaccinated has no immunity and can die and get sick,” says Arturo Valenzuela Zorrilla, medical director of the Secretary of Health in the Northern Area. “We cannot entrust grandchildren to newly vaccinated grandparents or get rid of the preventive measures yet.”

Valenzuela said the vaccine is not fully effective until three weeks after its application, and maximum immunization does not occur until three weeks after the second dose.

“The vaccine is not magic, it doesn’t make you immediately immune, and it needs to be made clear to the community so that it doesn’t think it’s over and stops taking precautions,” he said.

Experts stress that there are more risks by not getting vaccinated than by getting vaccinated. Side effects of vaccination are very few, and its use increases the chance of survival if someone becomes infected with COVID-19.

“Children must be more empathetic with their parents and take them to get vaccinated. For the health of adults, we must convince them, even if they are afraid, and we must do our best to take them despite this fear that some people have,” Valenzuela said.

As of April 20, 10.3 million people have been vaccinated in Mexico, according to Hugo Lopez-Gatell, spokesman of the government of Mexico for the COVID-19 pandemic. Of that amount, 3.3 million have completed their whole vaccination schedule.

Rocio Gallegos contributed to this story.

Cover photo: A Juárez resident receives a COVID-19 vaccination. (Photo by Rey R. Jauregui)

This story was produced as part of the Puente News Collaborative, a binational partnership of news organizations in Ciudad Juárez and El Paso.