Geopolitics

Why So Many In Mexico Don't Trust The Coronavirus Vaccine

Despite the pandemic's heavy toll, people remain reluctant to inoculate, in part because of persistent doubts about the country's public health system.

Why So Many In Mexico Don't Trust The Coronavirus Vaccine
A vaccination center in Mexico City on July 28
Adriana Alcázar González, Mar García and Marissa Revilla 

TUXTLA GUTIÉRREZ Sitting in her sister's restaurant in the smothering midday heat of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, in Mexico's southernmost state of Chiapas, Ricarda Jiménez Tevera prepares a cuchunuc flower freshly cut from the tree for cooking. Later the flower will be part of traditional dishes such as quesadillas or tamales, but for now Jiménez Tevera is fired up about something else.

"I've never been vaccinated; I don't believe in vaccines," says the forceful Jiménez Tevera, gray-white hair tied in a ponytail. "We're used to taking herbs. A lot of people aren't going to get vaccinated."

The government is trying to fool people, Jiménez Tevera says. COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, is really pneumonia, she says, despite a lack of scientific evidence. And before that, it was bronchitis.

"They keep changing the name," she says, "but it's the same."

Jiménez Tevera's COVID-19 cynicism is echoed throughout Mexico. The country has the world's fourth-highest COVID-19 death toll, behind the United States, Brazil and India. But as it combats the pandemic, it faces a deeply suspicious public that mistrusts government institutions in general and public health care in particular.

About 37% of Mexico's population doesn't trust public hospitals, according to the National Survey on Governmental Quality and Impact 2019. And it's a problem that traces back decades, says Dr. Humberto Cravioto Portugal, director of the government-run Hospital Básico Comunitario de San Juan Chamula, an indigenous municipality in the southern state of Chiapas.

People fear COVID-19 vaccinations because they don't know their origin, how they are made or what their ingredients are.

Some health facilities have few or no medications. Others use only interns to see patients. And it can take weeks to get an appointment. "Sometimes there is not even someone to open the door, or it is closed," Cravioto Portugal says. "So, what happens? No one is going to see you. The government health system is seen as something that is not good, as something that is not of high quality."

Mexico began rolling out its vaccines in December. Five options are available, and by the end of June, almost 20 million people had been fully vaccinated, about 15% of the population.

But suspicion has fueled rejection of COVID-19 vaccines. In indigenous communities in Chiapas, for example, fear and resistance toward inoculation has grown, along with the use of alternative medicine to prevent and treat COVID-19.

Radio stations broadcast messages in the Tsotsil and Tseltal languages in indigenous communities in the Chiapas highlands, as government officials and health authorities invite the population to get vaccinated. Yet residents ignore the pleas. They're afraid.

"We're not going to vaccinate," says Silvia Santiz López, who lives in Aldama, an indigenous municipality in Chiapas. "It's been on the news that many go and then die, so that makes you hesitate and not get vaccinated."

Low attendance at a vaccination center in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico — Photo: Carlos Lopez/EFE/ZUMA

Some experts predicted that the pandemic would pound indigenous communities because of their precarious living conditions, lack of water and overcrowding, says Marcos Arana Cedeño, a medical science researcher. But that never happened: Government statistics show that of Mexico's more than 2 million cases of COVID-19, less than 1% are among indigenous people.

These communities generally rely on plants and herbs to prevent and treat COVID-19. Lucía Pérez Santiz, 56, learned to use traditional medicine as a child. A member of the Tsotsil, an indigenous group, Pérez Santiz employs local plants such as mumo to treat COVID-19.

People fear COVID-19 vaccinations because they don't know their origin, how they are made or what their ingredients are, Pérez Santiz says. Traditional medicines are comforting, familiar.

"COVID-19 is cured depending on the person's symptoms," says Pérez Santiz. "The most dangerous symptom of COVID-19 is fear of death, fear of the unknown."

The UN's World Health Organization accepts the benefits of traditional medicines in general and says they may be useful for treating COVID-19. But it urges rigorous testing of such treatments for efficacy and possible side effects.

Mistrust of public institutions has fed a false conflict between modern health care and traditional medicine.

Toni López Silva, a public educator in the city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, consumes chlorine dioxide to stave off the coronavirus. She says the substance works as a broad-spectrum antibiotic that provides oxygen to cells so the body can defend itself.

The Pan American Health Organization, a regional agency that is part of the WHO, doesn't endorse chlorine dioxide or other sodium chlorite-based treatments for COVID-19. "There is no evidence of their effectiveness, and the ingestion or inhalation of such products could cause serious adverse effects," it says.

Vaccine hesitancy was on display in early April in Aldama. A few days before vaccinations were scheduled to start on April 8, local health workers asked groups of residents how many planned to show up. The answer: none.

By 9 a.m., a team of National Guard personnel and medical staff had arrived at the spacious, well-lit Centro de Salud con Servicios Ampliados (Expanded Health Services Center) to vaccinate those older than 60. But there were no lines.

And by 1 p.m., only one person had come for the vaccine.

Some people must leave their hometowns for a vaccine. Relatives brought Crisóforo Cruz Torres, 77, originally from the indigenous Tsotsil municipality of Chenalhó, to San Cristóbal de Las Casas because Chenalhó residents didn't want vaccine sites.

"In Chenalhó they told us that they weren't going to vaccinate, but they never said why, so I got worried and we brought my dad," says Concepción Cruz Aguilar, Cruz Torres' daughter.

Mistrust of public institutions has fed a false conflict between modern health care and traditional medicine, Cravioto Portugal, the government doctor in San Juan Chamula, says. Both sides can learn from each other.

"We need to ally ourselves with the ways that the indigenous communities cure themselves," he says. "In that way, we can strengthen both types of medicine."

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Protests against gasoline price hikes in Lebanon

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Wai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.

[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]


🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.

• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.

• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.

• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.

• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.

• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.


📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.

🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."

— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.

💬  LEXICON

魷魚的勝利

Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Anyone want to guess Trump's first post on his upcoming social media platform...? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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