The one million doses of the Janssen Covid-19 vaccine that the United States has donated to Mexico will be distributed along the northern border, according to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The head of state said the single-shot vaccine would be administered among the 18-40 age group in 39 municipalities along the US border in a bid to restore economic activity and commerce between the two countries. Border crossings are currently restricted to essential travel due to the coronavirus pandemic. “The intention is that vaccination in Mexico will advance at a similar rate to that of the United States,” said Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs.
The plan to use the Janssen vaccine to reactivate trade at the US border was an order from López Obrador, who has unveiled “a special vaccination plan for the northern border.”
Mexico has so far received 40 million vaccines and administered 33 million doses
“We believe that with these measures all of the sanitary conditions will be in place for the United States to agree to resume activities, if not all of them then a large majority, so that the economic, commercial and personal impact that has been caused in the border area can be brought to an end, a situation that has been extremely serious because it has now been over a year,” said Ebrard in reference to the partial closure of the world’s busiest border crossing due to the coronavirus pandemic and the campaign to vaccinate the 18-40 age group in the northern regions. The six Mexican states the government has chosen to concentrate on are Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas.
The vaccine shipment from Janssen, which is a subsidiary of US multinational Johnson & Johnson, will cover around a third of the inhabitants of those six border states in the targeted age group. The Mexican government will have to obtain a further 1.9 million doses of the vaccine, either through a purchase agreement with Johnson & Johnson or via another donation from the Joe Biden administration, which has embarked on a campaign to provide six million shots from the US surplus to a dozen Latin American countries. On June 7, the White House unveiled plans to make 25 million doses available worldwide as part of its vaccine-sharing commitments.
“It shows that we have a good relationship, this is a plan we have been working on. It is necessary to act with solidarity and everyone has to help each other for the common good,” López Obrador said. The Mexican president announced the arrival of the vaccine shipment moments before the White House made an official statement, after a phone call with US Vice President Kamala Harris.
The Mexican authorities have not yet said when the vaccine rollout along the border will commence but the matter was discussed between López Obrador and Harris during the US vice-president’s visit on June 8, where she reiterated the Biden administration’s determination to dissuade migrants from the Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala from attempting to reach the US via Mexico. Harris also said a visit to the US-Mexico border was on her agenda.
The Janssen vaccine will be the sixth to be distributed in Mexico, but only the second that requires a single shot, after the CanSino vaccine from China. This is a key advantage to the rollout in the view of the Mexican government, as it the fact that the shipment will not require a network of deep-freeze facilities for distribution.
It is necessary to act with solidarity and everyone has to help each other for the common good
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador
Although the Janssen vaccine was among the first to be offered, the Mexican authorities have also taken up other options: the Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Russia’s Sputnik V and two Chinese vaccines, CanSino and Sinovac. Mexico has contracts in place for around 250 million doses in total and the position of the medical authorities is that it is no longer necessary to seek further purchase agreements to meet demand. After Mexico’s health regulator granted emergency use authorization for the Janssen vaccine on May 27, Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell said that Mexico had a “decent supply” through its acquisition of the other five vaccines.
However, another factor that may lead Mexico to seek to further bolster its supply is that the government wants to ramp up vaccination in tourism areas. The state of Quintana Roo, which contains popular destinations including Cancún, Tulum and Riviera Maya, is currently on the highest alert level after five weeks of resurgent coronavirus cases which have led to fears the region may be facing a new wave. Baja California Sur, where one of Mexico’s most-visited destinations, Los Cabos, is located, is in a similar situation albeit one the health authorities consider to be lower risk than Quintana Roo, according to the most recent reports on the spread of the coronavirus. In Mexico’s Caribbean resorts, state governments are in negotiations with the federal authorities to have tourism workers included among priority groups for vaccination.
June is viewed as a key month for Mexico’s vaccine rollout as the authorities expect to have around 25 million doses available. To date, the country has received 40 million vaccines and has administered 33 million doses. The government’s objective now is to speed up the rollout among the 40-49 age group, with the overall aim of vaccinating the entire adult population by October.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken affirmed his country’s support to conduct additional investigations into the origins of the Covid-19 after meeting with the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday, Reuters reported. “He stressed the need for the next phase to be timely, evidence-based, transparent, expert-led, and free from interference,” a US state department spokesperson said in a statement.
The 78-year-old American president is known to be prone to verbal gaffes and slips of the tongue, for which he is usually criticized or mocked by some people on social media.
US President Joe Biden appeared to confuse former US President Barack Obama for another former US president, Donald Trump, in a Wednesday speech, but swiftly corrected himself and suggested that the mistake was a “Freudian slip”.
“Back in 2009, during the so-called Great Recession, the president asked me to be in charge of managing that piece, then-President Trump,” Biden said while addressing the public in Pennsylvania. “Excuse me, Freudian slip, that was the last president. He caused the…anyway, President Obama, when I was vice-president.”
Others argued that the 46th president does not know what a Freudian slip really is.
Biden was in Pennsylvania on Wednesday speaking at a Mack Truck assembly plant in Lehigh Valley, promoting his administration’s new measures to encourage US citizens and companies to “buy American”. Particularly, he announced plans to modify the 1933 Buy American Act that requires federal firms and agencies to purchase goods that have at least 55% US-made components.
Under the Biden plan, the threshold will be increased to 65% by 2024 and to 75% by 2029.
During the 11-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants in May 2021, Israeli airstrikes destroyed five multi-storey towers in the heart of Gaza City. The images of buildings crumbling to the ground flashed across TV channels around the world as Gaza faced the most intense Israeli offensive since 2014. At least 256 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children, and 13 in Israel, including two children. Israel claimed it was destroying the military capabilities of Hamas, who had fired rockets at Israel after weeks of tension in Jerusalem over the planned displacement of Palestinian residents and police raids on al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan.
Each time Israel said it was targeting Hamas and that it had warned the residents first. But what is it like to have only a few minutes to evacuate before watching your life collapse into rubble?
In conjunction with the civilian harm monitoring organisation Airwars, the Guardian spoke with dozens of residents and gathered footage and photos to piece together the story of one building, al-Jalaa tower, demolished by an Israeli airstrike on 15 May 2021. These are the stories from inside the tower, of the Mahdi clan, who owned and lived in the building, the Jarousha family and the Hussein family.
Israeli airstrikes in Gaza hit a 12-storey building in the early hours of 12 May 2021. Clockwise from top left: Israeli airstrikes in Gaza hit a 12-storey building in the early hours of 12 May 2021; a 13-storey residential block collapses in the Gaza Strip on 11 May 2021; an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City, 14 May 2021; smoke rises following an Israeli strike on al-Shorouq tower in Gaza City, 12 May 2021.
The story of al-Jalaa tower
The upscale Rimal area of Gaza City and its multi-storey towers had suffered since the bombing began. Though al-Jalaa was thought to be safe, night-long bombing had terrified its residents, who struggled to sleep. Fearing the impact of blasts, families had been sleeping in hallways away from the windows.
Children from al-Jalaa tower get ready to sleep in the hallway of the building for safety. Photo: Issam Mahdi
Al-Jalaa tower was built in 1994 as part of a property boom sparked by the landmark Oslo peace agreements between the Palestinians and Israelis.
The first five floors were offices, with floors six to 10 inhabited by families. On floor 11, the top floor, were the Gaza offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, two of the world’s largest media companies. The ground floor had two levels of shops and beneath it was a car park.
Many of the residents came from the Mahdi family, including the building’s owner Jawad and his son Mohammed.
After each marriage in the Mahdi clan the new family settled into the tower. Jawad, 68, had traded in Israel before 2007 when the Jewish state blockaded Gaza after the Islamist group Hamas seized control of the territory. Since then he has run his clothes company in Gaza.
The whole family had huddled together into a few apartments on the sixth floor for safety, but were about to be scattered as they rushed to evacuate.
As Jawad searches through the rubble he finds a single folder. It contains pictures of his wedding day.
Jawad Mahdi with a photograph of his wedding day, found amid the rubble of al-Jalaa tower. Photo: Mohammed Mahdi
Mohannad and Suzanne’s cats were never found. “I still don’t know their fate until today,” Mohannad says. “Every day from the moment it was destroyed I was going to the building listening for any sound.”
Suzanne says their lives will never be the same. “Everything you love is gone – it doesn’t matter about the cupboards and beds and things. There are things my kids had when they were babies, clothes that I had from when I was a child – these were memories. There was a box with all the things from my father, god rest his soul, his glasses and mobile and pictures. Where am I going to get things like that again?
“We have become people without memories or mementoes. What is a person without those? If you have no memories you feel like you never lived.”
Walid Hussein, the engineer who had returned with his family from years living in the US, has become like a ghost. He has not a single document to prove who he is. Sometimes he thinks about going back to the US for his children, but he has his elderly mother in Gaza to support. He doesn’t want to have to make a choice. He shares his hopes for a peaceful future in Gaza:
“This is all we are asking for, to live a peaceful life. Very peaceful life, it means security, it means no harm to anybody, it means don’t touch my kids – not because you have this technology and this kind of weapon you bomb all of us from the air.”
Joe Dyke heads the investigation team at the civilian harm monitoring organisation Airwars Anas Baba is a freelance reporter and photographer based in Gaza