Members of Congress want expired COVID-19 vaccines to travel to Mexico

Members of Congress, health officials and organizations want to send the expiring Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccines from Arizona to ailing Sonora, Mexico, but face bureaucratic and legal hurdles.

After the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine was temporarily stopped due to the possibility of causing serious blood clots in 15 patients – all women, three of whom died – confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine nationwide has plummeted said Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association.

“There are still people who like the J and J vaccine, but the demand has really dropped,” Humble said. “And you can’t send it back to the testing center; once you have it, you have it.

The Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccines are expected to expire six weeks from June 23, their original expiration date, according to theFood and drug administration.

While Humble and others, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, and Representative Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, want to use the oversupply to help Sonora, the Mexican state south of Arizona, l ‘State cannot do it. he. The federal government controls the supply.

The Public Preparedness and Emergency Preparedness Act, or PREP, prevents Arizona from shipping vaccines across international borders. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, under the PREP Act, “vaccine contracts with manufacturers prohibit the use or authorization of use of vaccines outside the United States and its territories. . Sharing vaccines internationally would violate these contracts.

Sonora is working to contain COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. So far, only 17% of Sonora’s population, which numbers 385,000, has been vaccinated, Gianco Urias, of the Sonoran Department of Health, told The Arizona Republic in a telephone interview.

Sonora is in the third phase of the national immunization plan, which means that only residents of Sonora 40 years and older are eligible.

In contrast, about 49% of Arizona’s population and 50% of the U.S. population had received at least one dose by Friday, according to data from ADHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unlike Sonora, everyone, regardless of demographics, is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Arizona.

Grijalva, who represents a congressional border district, said there were three reasons the United States should send expiring vaccines from Johnson & Johnson Janssen to Sonora.

The main reason, Grijalva told The Republic, is the “public health of Arizona residents.” The secondary reason is the public health of the residents of Sonora.

“We’re not talking about robbing Peter to pay Paul here,” Grijalva said in a telephone interview. “Arizona residents will not be denied or restricted access.”

“If COVID-19 continues to circulate and connect, with our international border, then the risk of transmission on this side of the border will persist,” Grijalva said.

As a sort of “side benefit,” as Grijalva put it, more Sonoran residents vaccinated means the border is more likely to reopen. Land ports of entry have been closed to all except “essential” travel since March 21, 2020.

The border closure has disproportionately affected Mexican citizens. While U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents were able to cross the border, as usual, Mexican nationals on tourist visas are not permitted to enter the United States at land ports of entry, although ‘they are still allowed to take flights from Mexico to the United States.

Due to the restrictions, border businesses have suffered a drop in profits and in some cases have closed.

“Cross-border travel is necessary for the economy, but cross-border travel is difficult when we don’t get the immunization rate in Sonora under control and create a better environment for this trade to happen,” Grijalva said.

“It’s just a shame to waste it”:Part of Arizona’s COVID-19 vaccine supply expired in June

How the idea gained momentum

Six weeks ago, Humble was told by the county health director of the extra Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccines. His first thought was to send them to Sonora.

“I immediately thought of Sonora because they are our partners,” said Humble, former state health director.

Humble said it would be “a very bad idea” for the HHS to deny that it had waived PREP.

“After they (renounce the PREP law), the logistics would be pretty straightforward: all you have to do is get the vaccine, keep the cold chain, take it to the consulate or just one. consulate in Arizona, which could then take custody of it. of it, and move it across the border and take it to the Sonoran health department or hospitals or whatever they’re going to use it in Mexico. The barriers are therefore not at all logistical; the barriers are administrative.

Humble contacted Sinema, who then sent a letter to HHS in late May. The movement has since gained ground. On May 28, the Arizona Border Counties Coalition sent a letter to HHS, signed by several health officials, including Humble, and members of Congress. And, June 11 Grijalva sent a letter to HHS.

Commercial truck drivers who regularly cross the border to transport fresh produce and other items from Mexico to Arizona wait to be vaccinated outside the Mexican consulate in Nogales.

“We’re just trying to stress to the secretary that there is some urgency,” Grijalva said.

Health and Human Services did not respond to the letter and did not immediately respond to interview requests from The Republic.

What the Biden administration does

While the Biden administration mainly focuses on sendingvaccines to other states in need, it is also shipping vaccines across the border, White House deputy public secretary Kevin Munoz told KOLD television station in Tucson.

“We wanted to make sure that there were lots of vaccines in the United States, and there are already enough of them, so now we are focusing on sending a lot of those doses to our neighbors,” said Munoz to KOLD.

On June 3, the Biden administration announced an allocation plan to share the first 25 million doses worldwide. Vice President Kamala Harris and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador met on June 8.

The meeting resulted in the creation of a binational task force, which, according to their website, is “intended to study the conditions necessary for the reopening of the US-Mexico border to commerce and daily travel.”

On June 15, the Biden administration sent approximately 1.35 million Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccines to Mexico, the second-largest donation since March 2021, when it sent 2.5 million doses.

According to Mexican officials, these vaccines will be distributed among 39 border communities, with a particular focus on 18- to 40-year-olds in its northern border towns, but will only cover about a third of that particular population.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on June 17 that vaccinations would begin in Baja, Calif. And then would be distributed eastward along the border to 10 towns in Sonora over the next 10 days.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

“We have to end the pandemic everywhere,” Munoz told KOLD. “And more importantly, the virus knows no borders. “

When asked by The Republic if Sonora would be a focal point for the future, however, the White House did not make Munoz available for an interview.

Here’s what’s going on in Sonora

When asked if the United States plans to send the soon-to-expire Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccines to Sonora, Gianco Urias of the Sonora Department of Health declined to comment, citing the sensitive nature of the ‘information.

“I don’t have a lot of information about a donation that might be happening,” Urias said. “However, I think any vaccine, as long as it meets all quality standards and does not put society at risk, would be welcome in Mexico and Sonora. I know there are agreements being worked out, but I don’t know the status of those talks. But if it is a safe vaccine and meets all health standards. … I think it would be great for our state.

Urias said Sonora has so far received 980,000 vaccines, including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, SinoVac and CanSino, the latter of which are vaccines made in China.

While Sonora receives more doses each week from around the world, Urias said, the number depends entirely on the allowance provided by Mexico’s federal government.

The vaccines the Sonoran health department receives are concentrated in its major cities, Urias said. The Sonoran Department of Health worked with the Arizona-Mexico Commission to roll out their vaccines.

While some residents of Sonora are wary of the COVID-19 vaccine, heat is the main issue when it comes to getting the vaccine, Urias said, with “a lack of space.”

“With the temperatures right now in Sonora, sometimes up to 47 or 48 degrees centigrade (116-118 degrees Fahrenheit), we find ourselves battling the weather,” Urias said.

Another problem is reluctance to vaccinate, Urias said.

“I think we need to work closely with all media to raise awareness among our residents more and convince people to get vaccinated and to have their loved ones vaccinated,” Urias said. “I think the worst thing we can do is be confident and let our guard down, thinking that nothing will happen.”

In the coming weeks, Urias said, the Sonora Department of Health and the Arizona-Mexico Commission will begin “vaccinating around 95,000 people who work in maquilas as part of a pilot program, mostly in border towns. of Sonora “.

It is not known whether these vaccines come from the United States or the federal government of Mexico, Urias said.

“This is information that the industry manages,” Urias said.

One of Sonora’s upcoming vaccination programs is the deployment of a pilot program to vaccinate workers at manufacturing plants along the Arizona border. This program, Urias said, could begin as early as the end of July and would involve workers at 150 manufacturing plants in San Luis Rio Colorado, Nogales and Agua Prieta.

The outcome of the state immunization council’s decision next Thursday will determine how many COVID-19 vaccines Sonora will receive for their border towns, including Sonora.

With the majority of businesses closed in Sonora since March 2020, Urias described the prospect of the arrival of potential vaccines and, in turn, the reopening of the border, as “very motivating.”

“I think there is a lot of hope, I think it is very important for Mexico, and especially for Sonora, to open the door to their neighboring country,” Urias said.

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