CUICATLAN, Mexico – Mostly hopeful but also dealing with a certain degree of anxiety, senior citizens in the small town of Cuicatlan in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca are being administered their first doses of a long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine.
Accompanied by his daughter and clutching a wooden cane, Eustaquio Aguilar Sanchez made his way to the hospital in Cuicatlan to obtain the vaccine developed by British-Swedish biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.
Following the injection, he lay down for 30 minutes in a makeshift observation space at an esplanade opposite the hospital while being monitored for a potential adverse reaction.
“I’m at ease. I always have been … I’m going to keep taking care of myself because you can’t get overconfident,” the 85-year-old told EFE on Wednesday.
In a long life devoted to masonry and rural labor, Eustaquio says he doesn’t recall any previous event prior to the pandemic that had kept him isolated from other family members.
“Never, never, never. I had heard my grandparents and parents talk before about the notorious typhoid, about whooping cough. I did experience that,” he recalled.
Aguilar Sanchez is one of thousands of elderly people who began receiving the first of two doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine this week.
The most recent official figures indicate that a total of 915,383 COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Mexico, but only 86,198 people have been fully inoculated with both doses.
While the vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, is being used to vaccinate health care workers, the AstraZeneca jab is being administered to adults over the age of 60.
Eustaquio’s daughter, 53-year-old Maura Aguilar Carrera, works at a hospital in Cuicatlan, a town located 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Oaxaca City, the state capital.
She received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in late January.
Aguilar Carrera, who earns just 1,800 pesos ($90) for 20 days of work in her hospital’s COVID-19 area, said it would have been impossible for her to afford the cost of a vaccine for her and her father.
“What we earn over 20 days isn’t much. We don’t charge much, and it’s not enough to (obtain) the vaccine,” she lamented.
Mexico’s government has pledged to vaccinate the entire population of that country of 126 million people, which since the start of the pandemic has registered more than 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 175,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
The death toll there is the third-highest globally, behind only the United States and Brazil.
The country has contracts for vaccines developed by Pfizer (34.4 million), AstraZeneca (79.4 million), China’s CanSino (35 million) Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology (24 million) and China’s Sinovac Biotech (10 million).
Mexico will also receive 51.4 million doses through the Covax mechanism, a World Health Organization-led effort that aims to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have access to coronavirus vaccines.
Eufemio Vilchis, 90, also recently received his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
A rural laborer his entire life, he has been sheltering in place for more than eight months and is hopeful that the vaccine will protect him from COVID-19, a potentially deadly respiratory illness.
“I’m now going on being isolated for eight or nine months. Always out of fear that it (COVID-19) affects elderly people more easily” due to weak immune systems and poor nutrition, he said.
Like in other parts of the country, some senior citizens who were vaccinated complained about having to wait in long lines and certain logistical errors.
Edwin Montero said while holding the hand of his 77-year-old mother-in-law, Tomasa Alcazar, that the wait time exceeded two hours.
“My mother-in-law has a disability, and the process wasn’t very fast. We had to wait a long time,” he said.
Apart from the logistical hurdles, there have been complaints that the vaccination drive for seniors may have been used inappropriately for electoral ends.
Some people, for example, said officials at the vaccination points were asking for photocopies of identity documents and taking photos of vaccine recipients.
“Imagine using the administering of vaccines for electoral purposes. It’s offensive,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday in a press conference from Mexico City’s National Palace.
Mexicans will go to the polls on June 6 to elect members of the lower house of Congress, 15 state governors and thousands of local officials.