No task is more important this year than the vaccination effort against Covid-19. Some governments around the world understood this and bought vaccines in advance, sometimes even in excess, as it was still a mystery which of the vaccines would prove effective. A range of options had to be readily available.
There can be no better investment a government can make now. The most expensive vaccine, Moderna, costs US $27 to US $38 per dose. Two doses per person are required. The PCR Covid-19 test is pricier in most Mexico City labs. Logic dictates for governments to spend on vaccination and doing so now. Each week vaccination is delayed, translates into thousands of additional deaths.
No-nonsense countries launched a strategy to vaccinate most of their population. Despite all that planning, the rollout has not been smooth. But some countries have done very well. Israel for example leads with over 2 million people vaccinated and hopes to cover its entire population by April. The United States has rolled out 12.3 million doses and now-president Joe Biden has promised to vaccinate one million people per day.
Until last week, Mexico had administered just over 400,000 vaccine doses since it began its effort in late December. In the past two years, the current administration has proven unable to buy and distribute general drugs for Mexico’s health care system. This is why I doubt it will be able to fulfill its promise to have all elderly adults vaccinated against Covid-19 before the end of March. They number more than 13 million. If the drive stars in February, the administration will have to do 220,000 inoculations a day in order to accomplish its goal if we were dealing with a single-dose vaccine. It would require twice that number if it involved double-dose, like the Pfizer vaccine the government is currently using. It is unclear if the Mexican government has enough vaccines to even give it a try.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government wants to go at it alone and guided by political logic. That is why Covid-19 vaccination brigades -of 10 workers each- are being deployed and overseen by federal government’s representatives (the so-called “superdelegates”) who function also as the president’s campaign coordinators. The Mexican government has opted to better to talk about vaccines than about last week’s record number of deaths and infections.
The Mexican government’s plan is to begin rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine among elderly adults in remote rural areas. The logical thing to do would be to start in areas heavily hit by the disease: large cities where crowded housing prevails and where vaccination can have a greater and speedier impact.
The López Obrador administration is not up to the task but has decided it will not let others pick up the slack. The president harbors such rage towards the private sector that until last week his government had not considered health workers in private hospitals to receive the vaccine despite them also treating Covid-19 patients. It did not seem to matter that president López Obrador himself went to a private hospital when he suffered a heart attack back in 2013.
It is immoral to block the Mexican private sector from taking part in distributing and administering the Covid-19 vaccines under rules set by the government to expedite the vaccination effort. Private hospitals should also be allowed to purchase vaccines in the international market, when available. They should be able to count on the government’s health protection agency (COFEPRIS) to back them up to import them without delay. This should be done in the very swift way that the Mexican government is greenlighting Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, given that we are in an emergency. Private hospitals should be allowed to use the vaccines on their staff and to sell them to the public.
This does not rob anyone in Mexico of getting the Covid-19 vaccine. Rather, it opens a range of options. The López Obrador has already bought its lots of vaccines. They have done what they could. Now they are going to buy Russia’s Sputnik V which has not been properly tested. However, the administration decided not to purchase Moderna’s, which has already been approved for use in the US and Europe, as it was deemed too expensive.
Every new vaccine dose benefits all Mexicans. It brings Mexico closer to the goal of vaccinating enough people to achieve herd immunity. As more people are vaccinated, more space will be available in hospitals. Those who have not been inoculated and become ill could enjoy better medical treatment and a lower risk of death.
The López Obrador administration cares about power. It wants control of the vaccination effort and of propaganda. The government wants to boast that it is vaccinating first the poorest Mexicans in rural areas even if it comes at the price of many more deaths in large cities.
* Carlos Elizondo Mayer-Serra is professor at the School of Government and Public Transformation at Tec de Monterrey, in Mexico City. A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @carloselizondom