12-year-old girl sparks debate over Covid-19 vaccines for children in Mexico – .

12-year-old girl sparks debate over Covid-19 vaccines for children in Mexico – .

MEXICO CITY — In early September, 12-year-old Zulma Gonzalez became exasperated. Zulma, who has type 1 diabetes and is at risk of serious illness with Covid-19, had been trying to get the vaccine for months to feel safe enough to return to school and have a normal life again.

But government policy did not allow minors like Zulma to be vaccinated because officials said it was unlikely that anyone under the age of 18 would become seriously ill with Covid-19. The policy has been criticized by some epidemiologists, who cite the arrival in recent months of the Delta variant and another large wave of deaths in Mexico, the fourth hardest-hit country in the world in terms of pandemic deaths.

So Zulma, with the help of her lawyer mother, took legal action and obtained a court order to get the vaccine. But health officials in his home state of Veracruz refused on September 2, citing guidelines from the federal government. That night, Zulma and her mother uploaded a video implicating Mexican coronavirus tsar Hugo Lopez-Gatell about vaccination policy.

Mexican coronavirus tsar Hugo Lopez-Gatell at a press conference in Mexico City this summer.

mario guzman/EPA/Shutterstock

The video has garnered more than a million views on Twitter and other social media, and sparked a nationwide debate on the government’s vaccine policy. Zulma posted a photo of herself standing in oversized shoes that read, “Put yourself in my shoes. Soon, teens across Mexico started posting the same photo, and the hashtag #VaccinateKids became a trending topic.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has said pharmaceutical companies want to scare countries into buying more vaccines, whether for children or for a third dose, topics he says require more scientific study.

“They might scare us by saying ‘I can’t believe you don’t vaccinate the children,’” he said. “But we’re not going to be held hostage to this. “

A week after the video, the Mexican government agreed to vaccinate up to 1 million minors between the ages of 12 and 17 deemed to be at risk, including those with diabetes, cancer or other prerequisites. He said he did not intend to vaccinate minors without pre-existing conditions, which is around 12 million adolescents.

On Tuesday, parents took children with underlying conditions to a hospital in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Luis Torres / EFE / Zuma Press

Many countries are debating the merits of vaccinating minors, and there are some concerns about vaccines causing rare heart disease in otherwise healthy adolescents. The UK has started vaccinating healthy 12 to 15 year olds in recent weeks after a review by the country’s four chief medical officers.

Mexico’s position on the issue contrasts with that of most industrialized countries and other Latin American countries. Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru and Chile now vaccinate minors. Uruguay started in early June. The United States this week unveiled plans to vaccinate children ages 5 to 11, pending approval from health officials.

Mexico has officially recorded 1,110 deaths from Covid-19 among people 19 and under, according to the health ministry, many of whom likely have an underlying health problem. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that a new study showed that vaccination reduced the risk of hospitalization by 93% in those 12 to 18 years old.

Many Mexicans make unusual efforts to obtain vaccines for their teenagers. Tens of thousands of people flew to the United States. Mexico’s northern border state, Coahuila, has organized buses to transport minors to Texas for vaccinations.

A healthcare worker administered a Covid-19 vaccine to a boy in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Mexico, on Wednesday.

Isabel Mateos / Associated press

Across Mexico, thousands of minors and their parents have now sued. In recent days, a lawsuit brought by an anonymous 15-year-old girl has prompted a federal judge to order the government to vaccinate all people between the ages of 12 and 18 who want to be vaccinated, arguing the policy discriminates on the basis of age.

The judge ruled that the arrival of the Delta variant, which affects younger patients more than earlier versions of the virus, puts minors at enough risk for the government to vaccinate them. The judge added that the loss of education during the pandemic and the psychological damage caused by social distancing policies make it a priority to help them return to normal lives.

“In view of all this, the effects of this decision are extensive not only for this minor, but for all those under 18,” wrote Judge Claudia Gamez in her decision.

The government appealed against the court order. Asked about the vaccination of minors, Mr López Obrador recently said: “No, because we are respecting our vaccination plan. In addition, we cannot have a public policy dictated by the interests of one person or a small group.

The World Health Organization has said that children tend to have milder Covid-19 than adults, unless they have pre-existing conditions, and therefore “it is less urgent to vaccinate them than older people ”.

Mexico has been one of the hardest-hit countries in the world in terms of pandemic deaths; the funeral of a Covid-19 victim last month in Valle de Chalco, Mexico.

Luis Cortés / Reuters

The CDC recommends vaccinating anyone over the age of 12, calling it an essential tool in controlling the pandemic. Minors rarely get as sick as adults, although they can still be infected and keep the virus circulating.

“Scientists around the world understand that this problem will not end until a significant portion of the population has been vaccinated, and that must include children,” said Laurie-Ann Fyvie, microbiologist at UNAM. , the largest public university in Mexico.

Zulma’s video took the form of a confrontation over epidemiology between a seventh-year student and Mr. Lopez-Gatell, who holds a doctorate. in Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University.

“Hello, Dr Gatell, do you remember me? Zulma said in the video, reminding him that last year, at the start of the pandemic, he held a virtual town hall meeting where he answered children’s questions about Covid-19.

As the FDA prepares to make a decision on whether to authorize Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, public health officials and pediatricians share their research with families to assure parents hesitant about the safety of the vaccine. Photo: John Locher / Associated Press

One of the questions was from Zulma, who asked if she was at risk for Covid-19 because she had type 1 diabetes. Mr Lopez-Gatell replied that yes, anyone with pre-existing conditions should take special precautions to protect yourself.

Replaying her own words from last year in her video, Zulma then asked why her vaccination policy ignored at-risk youth like her. “Dr. Gatell, I want a time and a place where I can get the vaccine,” she said.

After the video went viral, Mr Lopez-Gatell replied that every vaccine given to a minor in a trial meant one less vaccine for adults most at risk. He then caused controversy by stressing that more children die each year in accidents than from Covid-19. Opposition lawmakers and several major Mexican newspapers have called for his resignation.

Days later, Mr Lopez-Gatell announced that up to 1 million adolescents with pre-existing conditions would be vaccinated. His office declined to comment for this article.


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“I was glad he changed his mind,” said Zulma, who has since received two doses of the vaccine and has returned to school in person. “I learned that you have to defend yourself in this world. Now I stand up for those who want the vaccine.

Mexico generally does not have class actions, which means that each person who wishes to challenge government policy must file their own lawsuit.

In Zulma home state, dozens of minors who sued the government were vaccinated for two days last week, local health officials said.

“It was amazing seeing all the kids lined up to get their shots. But it made me angry that they had to sue the government for a vaccine, ”said Zulma’s mother, also named Zulma.

When Adriana Sofia Raigosa, 45, a mother of three teenagers in central Mexico, saw reports on Zulma, she hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit against Marcelo, 13, who also suffers from type 1 diabetes. A judge agreed and she continued with another successful appeal for her 16-year-old Maximiliano, even though he has no underlying conditions.

“Zulma inspired us,” she said.

Write to David Luhnow at [email protected]

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