Hopes for reduced cross-border spread of COVID-19 grow as Juarez begins to vaccinate its seniors

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Still, health officials on both sides of the border urge residents to continue wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Juarez on Monday began administering the COVID-19 vaccine to its senior citizens, a move meant to protect a vulnerable population and reduce the cross-border spread of the virus.

Dozens of vehicles lined the parking lot of a soccer stadium near the Rio Grande, where health professionals administered the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexican residents 76 years and older. Chihuahua state health officials hope to administer 20,000 vaccines to those as young as 60 during the next four days.

With U.S. residents continuing to visit older relatives in Juarez despite non-essential border travel restrictions, the vaccine represents urgently needed protection. However, it doesn’t excuse anyone from wearing face masks, observing social distancing and avoiding mass gatherings, a health official said.

Dr. Wendy Avila

“Even though we have border restrictions, there are those who live in both countries. It’s important to note that the vaccine doesn’t guarantee people won’t get sick; it only helps them not get very sick or die,” said Dr. Wendy Avila, deputy director of preventive health services for the state of Chihuahua. “We should continue to take care of each other because even those who get the vaccine can still get infected or infect others.”

Prior to Monday, only front-line healthcare workers and other medical providers had been eligible for vaccines in Juarez.

Chihuahua, which borders Texas and New Mexico, is seeing a spike in COVID-19 infections. So much so that on Monday it required most bars in the southern part of the state to close and severely curtailed occupancy in many other businesses and workplaces.

The state has recorded 5,852 coronavirus-related deaths and 60,537 infections since the pandemic began.

Assistant Fire Chief Jorge Rodriguez

Across the border, El Paso, Texas has recorded 131,459 cases and 2,478 fatalities during the pandemic.

El Paso Fire Department Assistant Chief Jorge Rodriguez said 29% of El Paso County residents 16 years of age or older are now fully vaccinated and 47% have received at least one dose.

“We’ve been very successful doing outreach at senior centers and with the home-bound. We’re proud of everyone who’s been working on the front lines to achieve that,” Rodriguez said.

City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza also urged border residents to continue to observe preventive measures until the region achieves “herd immunity.” That’s a colloquial term describing minimum risk of new infections when most of the population has either been vaccinated against a disease or develop natural immunity after contracting it.

“The best way to prevent cases is to continue to wear the mask and continue to observe protective measures and protect your family,” Ocaranza said at Monday’s County Commissioners meeting.

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