Pandemic Without Borders – The Texas Observer
An oxidized bronze statue of TomÃ¡s SÃ¡nchez, the founder of the binational metropolis Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, gazed at the Presidencia Municipal on a hot sunny day in mid-December. Inside the building, Dr Victor TreviÃ±o, one of the 10th generation descendants of SÃ¡nchez and the Laredo Health Authority, accepted the key to the town of Nuevo Laredo from Mayor Carmen Lilia Conturosas for his efforts to obtain and distribute free COVID-19 vaccines for its residents. The gratitude was bittersweet for Dr TreviÃ±o.
âIt took a lot of effort to found these cities,â he said as he crossed the international bridge to Mexico shortly before the ceremony. âAlthough Nuevo Laredo is a different country now, people are still the same. Now the bridge is open and we need to vaccinate as many people as possible. Politics, government, the virus does not respect that or the border. ”
Over the past 22 months, Dr TreviÃ±o and his colleagues have battled a deadly virus that has overwhelmed hospitals, one of Texas’ worst death rates, and political battles with Governor Greg Abbott over local COVID-19 policies. Despite a shortage of medical personnel before the pandemic, Laredo has become a model of international and humanitarian cooperation.
In less than a year, Webb County, where Laredo is the seat of government, managed to fully immunize more than 87% of its population over five years old. In Laredo, the largest land port in the United States, hospitalization rate dropped from one of the highest in Texas in August 2020 at one of the lowest.
However, with the Delta variant soon to sweep the world, Dr TreviÃ±o realized the need for a regional solution to the pandemic. The United States and other wealthy countries had prioritized immunizing their citizens first, purchasing much of the early supplies – far more than their public demanded – and donating a few vials to countries the poorest. Even as the world desperately cried for help, America’s pharmacies and health departments threw away millions of expired doses.
âI knew a father and a son, both anesthetists in Nuevo Laredo. Both are dead, âsaid Dr TreviÃ±o. âA lot of doctors weren’t vaccinated so we had to do something. We can’t let trade come and go [across the bridge] without a plan.
As hospitals and clinics in Nuevo Laredo planned the logistics to transport staff to the international bridge, Dr TreviÃ±o and his son Victor TreviÃ±o Jr. procured additional doses from sources statewide. . Soon, TreviÃ±o Jr. traveled to Houston and San Antonio, collecting vaccines in batches of 50 and 100.
With the vaccine in hand, TreviÃ±o Jr. crossed the international bridge to meet the Mexican military. Heavily armed men placed the TreviÃ±os in the back of an armored truck and proceeded to a nearby location where medical staff from Nuevo Laredo stabbed their colleagues.
âWe had to make sure they were armed,â said TreviÃ±o Jr. âVaccines are of such high value in Mexico. We didn’t want them to end up on the black market.
Dr Karen Hernandez, who lives and practices medicine in Nuevo Laredo, volunteered to inoculate her colleagues with the recovered doses of the TreviÃ±os. âIt was a great experience,â she said. âI felt like a little grain of sand helping to stop the pandemic. “
After successful word of mouth vaccinations for medical staff in Nuevo Laredo, Dr TreviÃ±o quickly moved forward with a formal regional vaccination plan.
TreviÃ±o, Laredo Health Director Richard Chamberlain, Fire Chief Guillermo Heard, and Mexican Consulate General Juan Carlos Mendoza have planned a pilot program to vaccinate unvaccinated Mexicans entering the United States. the virus, as their first target. About 8,000 trucks cross the Rio Grande through the Laredos daily, carrying auto parts, electronics, medical equipment and other mass-produced goods.
âIt was a basic principle promoted by Dr TreviÃ±o,â said Mendoza, who helped with the logistics. âWe won’t be safe until we make a contribution to the people across the border. “
Beginning in late July, hundreds of drivers received doses provided by the Laredo Health Department inside the Border Patrol and US Customs inspection site. With little traffic disruption, local authorities rated the effort a success. Another round of cross-border talks has started, led by Consul General Mendoza, between the mayors of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo and federal officials on how and who to vaccinate next.
Working with INDEX Nuevo Laredo, a professional association representing the maquiladoras, the Mexican consulate in Laredo and officials in the city of Laredo launched the next vaccination program for factory workers and their families at the end of July. They targeted assembly line workers to maintain an uninterrupted flow of goods across the border. Despite the pandemic, around $ 600,000 in goods per minute passed through Laredo in 2020, according to the Consulate General.
The manufacturers transported their employees by bus to the JuÃ¡rez-Lincoln International Bridge, which connects the two cities on the Rio Grande. On deck, contract medical personnel injected 5,010 factory workers, including some of the workers’ children, with Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccines. After a short wait for the adverse effects in the air-conditioned buses, the workers returned to Mexico.
âThe two sides of the border get mixed up for every type of situation,â said fire chief Laredo Heard. âThe silver lining of the pandemic is that it has really brought our communities together. “
In August, Nuevo LeÃ³n Governor-elect Samuel Garcia learned about Laredo’s vaccine sharing program. In Monterrey, one of Mexico’s most important economic cities, a three-hour drive south of Laredo in the border state of Nuevo LeÃ³n, the virus was spreading rampantly. The four million inhabitants of the Monterrey metropolitan area had little access to any vaccine. Garcia has formed a partnership between Laredo and Monterrey maquiladoras similar to the Nuevo Laredo arrangement. Between August 18 and December 2, more than 33,000 factory workers in Monterrey traveled by bus to the border for vaccines donated by the Larado health department, with logistics being handled by the government of Nuevo LeÃ³n.
“It’s a shame to throw away a vaccine that will save thousands of lives,” said Dr TreviÃ±o. âNow that this program has grown, governments will understand that this is the only way forward. ”
Indeed, after the vaccination of workers at the Monterrey factory, the leaders of Nuevo Laredo demanded a new vaccination campaign for their teachers. The first five buses full of teachers crossed the JuÃ¡rez-Lincoln Bridge on December 6.
In the customs and border patrol vehicle inspection area, first a small National Guard medical team, then seven medical workers from Dr. TreviÃ±o’s office, supervised by TreviÃ±o Jr., vaccinated more than 11,000 teachers in ten days. âIt took our people less than 10 minutes to vaccinate a bus,â TreviÃ±o, Jr. said of the quick operation.
A week before Christmas, the last bus of the year returned to Mexico filled with newly vaccinated teachers.
Laredo has further expanded its efforts to distribute vaccines. At the Outlet Shoppes, just a hundred yards from the international bridge in downtown Laredo, the Mexican Consulate has opened a showcase to vaccinate anyone who shows up, most often Mexican nationals with entry visas to United States. In front of the Puma store, the National Guard also vaccinates. The city’s health ministry maintains an open jab site under its administrative offices. Hundreds of men, women and children lined up at all three locations over the holidays and until 2022.
âMexicans are in desperate need of vaccines,â TreviÃ±o Jr. said, especially now with the highly contagious variant of omicron seemingly everywhere. He met an 88-year-old man who rode a horse nearly 52 miles from AnÃ¡huac, Nuevo LeÃ³n, just for the jab. He met a woman who had just completed her last round of chemotherapy at mid-point to administer a dose. Another woman was transported across the bridge for a vaccine to the Outlet Shoppes on a stretcher.
According to the Mendoza Consulate General, more than 60,000 Mexican nationals, including 11,000 children, have been vaccinated in Laredo by the end of 2021. Dr Richard Chamberlain, director of the health department, said bus operations The bridge would resume in January, allowing Mexican visa holders to visit family, friends and shop in the United States after receiving CDC-approved vaccines.
Dr TreviÃ±o wonders if his town can put needles in his arms fast enough to beat omicron and stop Nuevo Laredo patients from flooding Laredo hospitals. Already, the Laredos are detecting surges in infections, and monoclonal antibody treatments, effective against previous viral infections, are not effective against the new variant. The best way forward, the doctor said, is prevention: vaccines, masks and maintaining 10-day quarantines for those infected.
âProviding the vaccine to everyone in the world is what is needed,â said Dr Chamberlain. “We are thinking not only of the Texans but also of our brothers and sisters in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.”