MEXICO CITY – Hundreds of parents in Mexico have resorted to filing for court injunctions to get coronavirus vaccines for their children after the government refused to consider vaccinating those under 18.
In the U.S. and other countries, childhood vaccinations are already underway, but Mexican officials have downplayed the risk for minors. That is despite the 613 deaths and 60,928 confirmed COVID-19 cases among people under 18 in Mexico to date.
About 15 parents have won the injunctions and got their children shots as the government presses schools to return to in-person classes Monday.
Alma Franco, a lawyer in the southern state of Oaxaca, was one of the first to seek vaccination for her children through the constitutional appeals known in Mexico as "amparos." Such appeals ask a judge to strike down, freeze or reverse a government action that may violate the plaintiff's rights.
Franco won the appeal and got a vaccine shot for her 12-year-old son, and then posted a copy of the appeal on social media so others could essentially copy and paste it and file their own.
“I am a mother, and I would not want any family to be in mourning because the Mexican government failed to defend the health of children,” said Franco, 48. She said an estimated 200 parents have followed her path to try to win vaccines.
Local media reported that 15 such injunctions have been granted so far and 31 rejected.
Ingrid Nattalie, a 13-year-old middle school student in the northern city of Mexicali, across the border from Calexico, California, was also got a shot, something her family's lawyer, Jorge Lizarraga, called “a legal triumph.”
Mexico's medical health safety board has approved Pfizer shots for use in people as young as 12. But in Mexico, only the government is currently able to import and administer the vaccines — so far giving around 57 million doses to those over 18, enough to cover 64% of adults with at least one shot.
To date, Mexico has suffered about 257,000 test-confirmed deaths. But because so little testing is done, official excess-death counts suggests the real toll is around 400,000.
The United States and 11 countries in Latin America have started vaccinating youths aged 12 to 17, in part because young people are believed to play a role in spreading the disease. But Mexico's under-18 population hasn't been included in the vaccination programs, which are free.
Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell, the government's point man for the pandemic, said “under the age of 18, there is a much lower risk of getting COVID, above all a severe case, and the risk of dying is practically nil.”
Dr. Andreu Comas, a professor at the medical school of the Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí, said children are getting caught up in Mexico's third wave of the virus, though severe cases are less frequent than in adults.
Comas said children are “big carriers and propagators of the disease.”
The administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been urging parents to send their kids back to school for in-person classes, which have been suspended for almost 1 1/2 years, saying it is necessary for children's intellectual and social development.
Many parents agree on the need to return to classes, but say it could be too much of a strain to do so without vaccines.
“The children have been locked up at home for a year and a half, amid fear," Franco said. “This (vaccination) gives them some security and certainty that things will be better for them if they get infected.”