Mexico’s Covid Deaths Fall Sharply on Immunity, U.S. Vaccines

Mexico, which lost more people to Covid than almost any other country, is seeing a mammoth drop in cases and deaths, the likely result of post-infection immunity, some vaccines, warming weather and proximity to the U.S.

After a deadly winter of saturated ICUs and desperate searches for oxygen tanks, Covid clinics are closing and the positivity rate of tests, which at one point was the highest in the world, is down to 17%. Hospital capacity, 90% in January, is 13%.

“The drop in cases and deaths is likely a combination of vaccinations, natural immunity following infection, and perhaps also changes in season,” said Emily Gurley, epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Gurley says vaccine immunity lasts longer than immunity from infection and another wave could be ahead.

Another explanation is Mexico’s northern neighbor. The U.S. is rapidly vaccinating itself to better health. This means infections headed south are greatly reduced. And after President Joe Biden eliminated age restrictions this month and supply began outstripping demand, more Mexicans began going to the U.S. to get vaccinated.

“Many Mexicans have gotten their shots in the U.S., that’s for sure,” said Carlos del Rio, an epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta. “It’s all a combination of factors that is inhibiting transmission.”

Mexico’s Covid Deaths Fall Sharply on Immunity, U.S. Vaccines

Mexico reported 9.5 Covid-19 deaths per million inhabitants in the week through May 23, the slowest rate of fatalities in more than a year and down from more than 80 earlier this year.

Vaccine Tourists

Mexico’s vaccination campaign has only covered about 14% of the population with at least one dose since it began in December, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. The strategy has prioritized health care workers, the elderly and teachers.

That has led hundreds of thousands to seek shots up north. Although exactly how many isn’t known, some data offer clues.

Passengers flying to cities in Texas, a hot-spot for Mexicans looking for shots, more than doubled in March from February to some 305,000, according to government data. That includes Houston, McAllen, Laredo, San Antonio and Dallas.

Miami saw a 76% monthly increase in passengers from Mexico in March. Mexico’s travel agent association says members have sold over 170,000 vacation packages for people looking to fly to get shots.

When the U.S. began the vaccine roll-out, Houston Medical Brokers set up a service to help people navigate the appointment process.

“The word somehow got to Mexico and people started contacting us as the vaccination process is quite slow there,” a spokesperson said, adding that the company has helped 200 Mexicans book shots.

The U.S. also sent millions of doses of the vaccine to Mexico and Canada.

Mexico’s Covid Deaths Fall Sharply on Immunity, U.S. Vaccines

Last month, almost 2.3 million people traveled between the U.S. and Mexico, according to data posted by the Airlines for America trade group. The next highest country was the Dominican Republic, with only 606,000 passengers.

And while a decision Tuesday by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to downgrade Mexico’s air safety ranking could reduce an uptick in traffic by Mexican carriers, it won’t impact current routes or prohibit U.S. airlines from expanding operations to the country.

Opening Up

Mexico City, one of the hardest-hit regions during the December wave, is expecting to return to “green” in the government’s categorization, the loosest since the pandemic began 14 months ago.

That means the city is considering opening schools in June and even allowing concerts, unthinkable three months ago.

The country, which has officially lost more than 200,000 people to Covid, will likely reach herd immunity in September, Mexico’s virus czar Hugo Lopez-Gatell said earlier this week. He told the Washington Post recently that half of the population may have antibodies and that variants haven’t become dominant strains in Mexico.

Gurley from Johns Hopkins warns that relying on immunity acquired from the virus isn’t a good long-term bet.

“Population level immunity from infection is dynamic - a few months after a peak in transmission, it will likely start to wane,” she said. “Vaccine is the best strategy to keep immune levels in the population high.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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