Mexico becomes COVID-19 vaccination centre for Guatemalans

The southern state of Chiapas welcomes a massive influx of Guatemalans to be immunised against the coronavirus
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REUTERS/JOSÉ TORRES  -   People wait to receive the first injection of the COVID-19 vaccine as part of a vaccination programme in the rural areas of Llano de la Lima, on the outskirts of Tapachula, Mexico

More than five and a half hours by road separate the capital of Guatemala from Tapachula, one of the main cities in the Mexican state of Chiapas. This is the journey that dozens of Guatemalans make every day to get vaccinated against COVID-19 due to the lack of doses in their own country. And the flow is not likely to stop.

The Aztec administration does not have a register certifying the total number of Guatemalans vaccinated on Mexican soil, as it does not require residency data to complete the vaccination process. However, the Mexican Social Security Institute estimates that thousands of people have already crossed the border to be immunised against the coronavirus. The authorities also estimate that the number will increase in the coming weeks.

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AFP/JOHAN ORDOÑEZ - A municipal police officer stands guard on an empty street during a four-day blockade by local authorities following a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases

The border between the two states is porous. This factor, coupled with the lack of Mexican health restrictions, facilitates the vaccination process for the Guatemalan population. Those who want to complete the vaccination schedule in Mexico only need a Regional Visitor Card (TVR), a document valid for five years that allows a seven-day stay at each entry in the four states that make up the country's southern border, including Campeche, Tabasco, Quintana Roo and Chiapas, the most frequented.

Attempts to access the VTRs have collapsed the Central American country's administration. Thousands of Guatemalans have applied en masse for the document in order to leave for the north. According to local sources, there were more queues to collect the card than at the vaccination centres these days, a fact that reflects the situation the country is going through. 

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AFP/JOHAN ORDOÑEZ - A man receives a dose of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine

"Mexico does not deny vaccination to anyone. Any foreigner who comes to request the vaccine also has the right to be vaccinated, not just COVID-19, but any vaccine, as long as we have it, they are welcome," María Sara Sumuano, coordinator of the vaccination module in Tapachula, told the Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre. 

AstraZeneca inoculates in the southern Mexican state. The only requirements Guatemalans have to fulfil are to present their Personal Identification Document (DPI), fill in a form with their basic data, register their vital signs, undergo an interview about their medical history and wait half an hour to monitor possible adverse reactions. The cost of the trip is around 200 euros including hotel nights.

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AFP/JOHAN ORDOÑEZ - People complete a registration form before receiving their first dose of the Modern COVID-19 vaccine

The shortage of doses is hampering the progress of the vaccination campaign. So far, 55,000 people have received at least one dose, while 2,639 people have received the full course, 0.7% of the total population of around 16.5 million people. In addition, the country has only a few doses against the virus.

On Monday, Spain started sending 7.5 million vaccines to Latin America and the Caribbean through the COVAX mechanism. One of the destinations of this donation is Guatemala. For its part, the United States announced last week that it was sending three million vaccines to the Central American country, a donation that brings to 4.5 million doses the amount of aid provided by Washington to the country.

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REUTERS/LUIS CORTES - People exercise after receiving a dose of the Sputnik V coronavirus disease vaccine (COVID-19) at the Mexico City Arena

Since the beginning of March 2020, Guatemala has registered more than 352,000 cases and 10,100 deaths, 1,272 new infections and seven deaths in the last 24 hours. It is the Central American country with the highest number of deaths due to EVD-19 compared to its neighbours. For this reason, Guatemalans are looking for other options to protect themselves from the pandemic.

Latin America Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.