An oxidized bronze statue of Tomas Sanchez, the founder of the bi-national metropolis of Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, looked at the Presidencia Municipal on a warm sunny day in mid-December. Inside the Dr. Victor Treviño, one of Sánchez’s descendants of the 10th generation and Laredo’s health office, took over the key from Nuevo Laredo from Mayor Carmen Lilia Conturosas for his efforts to obtain and distribute free COVID-19 vaccines to its residents. . The recognition was for Dr. Treviña bittersweet.
“It took a lot of effort to establish these cities,” he said as he crossed the international bridge to Mexico shortly before the ceremony. “Although Nuevo Laredo is a different country now, the 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 the borders. ”
Last 22 months Treviño and his colleagues battled a deadly virus that brought overcrowded hospitals, one of the worst deaths in Texas, and political quarrels with Governor Greg Abbott over local COVID-19 policy. Despite the shortage of pre-pandemic medical personnel, Laredo proved to be a role model for international and humanitarian cooperation.
In less than a year, more than 87 percent of its population over the age of five has been fully vaccinated in Webb County, where Laredo is the seat of government. In Laredo, the largest land port in the United States, hospitalization rates dropped from one of the highest in Texas in August 2020 to one of the lowest.
However, with the Delta variant, which will soon orbit the globe, Dr. Treviño realized the need for a regional solution to the pandemic. The United States and other rich countries have been the first to prioritize vaccinating their citizens, have bought much of the first rounds of supplies – much more than their public has demanded – and donated a few bottles to poorer countries. Although the world has been desperate for help, U.S. pharmacies and health departments have thrown out millions of lost benefits.
“I knew a father and a son, both anesthesiologists in Nuevo Laredo. They both died, “said Dr. Treviño. “A lot of the doctors weren’t vaccinated, so we had to do something. We can’t let commerce go back and forth [across the bridge] without a plan. “
When Nuevo Laredo’s hospitals and clinics planned logistics to transport staff to the International Bridge, Dr. Treviño and his son Victor Treviño Jr. received additional benefits from sources throughout the state. Soon Treviño Jr. traveled to Houston and San Antonio, where he picked up vaccines in batches 50 and 100.
Treviño Jr. walked with the vaccine in hand. across the international bridge to meet the Mexican army. The heavily armed men loaded Treviños on the back of an armored truck and drove to a nearby spot where Nuevo Laredo paramedics had stabbed their colleagues.
“We needed to make sure they were put in the arms,” Treviño Jr. said. “Vaccines are so valuable 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, has volunteered to vaccinate her colleagues with salvaged doses of Treviños. “It was a great experience,” she said. “I felt like a small grain of sand helping to stop the pandemic.”
After the successful oral vaccination of medical staff in Nuevo Laredo, Dr. Treviño made rapid progress with a formal regional vaccination plan.
Treviño, Health Director Laredo Richard Chamberlain, Chief of Fire Department Guillermo Heard and Mexican Consulate General Juan Carlos Mendoza planned a pilot program to immunize unvaccinated Mexicans entering the United States Officials have identified truck drivers transporting cargo several times a day between cities . Approximately 8,000 trucks pass through the Rio Grande through Laredos every day, transporting car parts, electronics, medical equipment and other mass-produced products.
“It was a basic principle that Dr. Treviño, “said Mendoza, who helped with the logistics. “We will not be safe until we contribute to the people on the other side of the border.”
Beginning in late July, hundreds of drivers received Laredo Department of Health benefits at the U.S. Border Patrol and Customs Administration. With several traffic restrictions, local officials considered the effort a success. Another round of cross-border talks, led by Consul General Mendoza, began between the mayors of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo and federal-level officials on how and whom to vaccinate.
Cooperation with INDEX Nuevo Laredo, a trade association representing local makeup machinesAt the end of July, the Mexican consulate in Laredo and Laredo city officials launched another program to vaccinate factory workers and their families. They focused on assembly line staff to maintain a continuous flow of goods across borders. Despite the pandemic, goods worth approximately $ 600,000 per minute traveled through Laredo in 2020, according to General Consulado.
The manufacturers took their employees by bus to the Juárez-Lincoln International Bridge, which connects the two cities across the Rio Grande. The contracted medical staff injected 5,010 factory workers, including some working-class children, with a single Johnson & Johnson vaccine. After a short precautionary wait for adverse reactions in air-conditioned buses, workers returned to Mexico.
“Both sides of the border are mixed for every type of situation,” said Fire Chief Laredo Heard. “The silver edge of the pandemic is that our communities have really come together.”
In August, elected Nuevo Governor León Samuel Garcia learned of the Laredo 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 León – the virus spread uncontrollably. Four million people in the Monterrey metro area had limited access to any vaccine. Garcia established a partnership between Lared and Monterrey makeup machines similar arrangement Nuevo Laredo. Between August 18 and December 2, more than 33,000 factory workers from Monterrey traveled by bus to the border for vaccines donated by Larad’s Ministry of Health, with logistics paid for by the Nuevo León government.
“It’s a shame to throw away a vaccine that will save thousands of lives,” said Dr. Treviño. “Now that this program has dynamism, governments will understand that it is the only way.”
After vaccinating the workers at the Monterrey plant, the leaders of Nuevo Laredo asked for another vaccination event for their teachers. On December 6, the first five teachers’ buses crossed the Juárez-Lincoln Bridge.
In the area of customs control of the Customs and Border Patrols, first a small medical team of the National Guard, then seven paramedics from the practice of Dr. Treviña, overseen by Treviño Jr., was vaccinated by more than 11,000 teachers in ten days. “It took our people less than 10 minutes to vaccinate one bus,” said Treviño, Jr. about fast operation.
The 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 shop to vaccinate anyone who comes, most often Mexican nationals with US entry visas. The National Guard is also vaccinating in front of the Puma store. The city’s Ministry of Health maintains an open stabbing area under its administrative offices. Hundreds of men, women and children lined up in all three places during the holidays and by 2022.
“Mexicans are desperate for vaccines,” said Treviño Jr. – especially now that the highly contagious omicron variant is everywhere. He met an 88-year-old man who rode almost 52 miles from Anahuac, Nuevo León, just for a stab. He met a woman who had just completed the last round of chemotherapy in the middle of the bridge to give her a dose. Another woman was carried across the bridge for a vaccine in Outlet Shoppes on a stretcher.
According to the Consulate General of Mendoza, more than 60,000 Mexican nationals, including 11,000 children, had been vaccinated in Laredo by the end of 2021. Dr. Richard Chamberlain, director of health, said the bridge bus would resume in January, allowing visa-free Mexicans to visit family, friends and shop in the United States after receiving CDC-approved vaccines.
Dr. Treviño wonders if his city can get needles in his arms fast enough to beat the omicron and stop Nuevo Laredo’s patients from flooding Laredo’s hospitals. Laredos is already detecting leaps in infections, and monoclonal antibody therapy, effective against previous viral infections, is not effective against the new variant. The best way forward, the doctor said, is prevention: vaccines, masks and maintaining a 10-day quarantine for the infected.
“Providing a vaccine to everyone in the world is what is needed,” said Dr. Chamberlain. “We think not only of the Texans, but also of our brothers and sisters in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.”