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Herd Immunity Starts at Borders: Brownsville’s Maquiladora COVID-19 Vaccine Effort

Meron Teferi, Public Health Major at College of Natural Sciences
Brownsville Community, City of Brownsville Public Health Department and Community and Government Affairs


Home to Texas Program 2021Student Blog

Pictured: City of Brownsville Public Health Department staff (orange and blue shirts), Mexican Consulate Staff (white shirts), UTRGV Pre-PA Society volunteers (navy shirts) Home to Texas Intern (bottom row center, black shirt)
In front of one of the buses that transported the Maquila workers from Mexico into the US

Background

Interning at both the City of Brownsville Public Health Department and Community and Government Affairs, I was able to watch this project unfold from an idea to a realized event. I remember listening in on an initial planning meeting where the Public Health Director spoke with the Mexican Consulate to Brownsville about the logistics of setting up a vaccination event. Within that one-hour virtual meeting, I had learned that similar events have been coordinated in other border communities, but this would be the first for our region of the state.

My Perspective

Despite the inclement weather and numerous logistical considerations, the City of Brownsville accomplished a historical binational effort to vaccinate Maquiladora workers. For context, Maquiladoras (or maquilas) are US industries located along the US-Mexico border – Brownsville’s sister city, Matamoros, is home to several Maquiladoras. Maquilas are an integral component of Brownsville’s manufacturing and air cargo economy. Their workforce is composed of Mexican nationals, who just like everyone around the globe had their lives upturned because of the pandemic. Thus, when the City of Brownsville was experiencing a surplus in COVID-19 vaccines and the opportunity to hold a vaccination event for Maquila workers presented itself, the next step was obvious.

At the time, I did not know how I would be able to contribute but I knew I wanted to. During my internship, I had the opportunity to take a Vaccine Administration course at a local university. I was surprised to learn that non-clinical personnel could even administer vaccines. Thanks to the Emergency Use Authorization of the COVID-19 vaccine, this was possible. The following week after the training I was vaccinating members of the community at vaccine drive-through events set up by the city.

When the time came for the three-day Maquiladora vaccination event, I felt confident and ready to vaccinate. The operation was coordinated to be as efficient and fast as possible as there was a large volume of people that needed to get in and out of the facility. A bus would drop off the workers at the facility, they would get assigned to one of about twenty vaccine stations and receive their vaccine. By the end of each day, I had interacted with countless individuals.

One thing I quickly discovered while administering vaccines is just how vulnerable an experience receiving a vaccine (or any sort of invasive procedure) can be for patients. Putting myself in the shoes of the Maquila workers – many of whom had either just come back from work or had to go to work right after – I could only imagine what it must have been like to step foot in a different country, receive a painful shot, and be sent on your way en masse. This on top of the already existing worries that many people have about the COVID-19 vaccine, I’m sure did not make it any easier. As someone who has a decent working knowledge of the Spanish language, but is by no means fluent, I was nervous that I would not be able to ease their concerns or anxieties. I know if I was receiving a vaccine and my administrator did not speak to me that would cause me to be more nervous about the experience. With this in mind, I made an effort to engage with each patient and create an inviting environment with my attitude despite the rather sterile physical environment. Whether that meant asking them how their day was, making a joke, or offering words of reassurance, I believe these gestures went a long way in making them feel comfortable even if it was only for that two-minute interaction.

Over the course of those three days, 3,295 single COVID-19 doses were administered to our neighbors across the border. Looking back, the most rewarding thing about this experience was working with a team to accomplish a common goal. Many moving parts allowed this event to be successful. From the shuttle drivers who transported us to and from our vehicles, to the staff who worked on tedious data entry, to my fellow vaccinators made up of staff and student volunteers– each role was just as important as the next. While it did get physically exhausting to be on my feet for hours on end, with each round of people we vaccinated I felt I was contributing to something worthwhile and important. By the end, I was left with a sense of pride knowing that we were quite literally changing the world, one vaccine at a time.


Find the Home to Texas 2021 Student Blog Series below:

  1. Intro: Developing Future Community Leaders Today
  2. The Day in the Life of a Home to Texas Summer Intern
  3. Herd Immunity Starts at Borders: Brownsville’s Maquiladora COVID-19 Vaccine Effort
  4. Eye-Opening, Confidence Building: Working with Port Arthur, Beaumont Area Leadership
  5. Internship Renews Commitment to Hometown of Tyler, TX
  6. Home to Texas Internship Leads to an Eye-Opening Juneteenth Experience
  7. Coming Soon
  8. Coming Soon

For more information on the Home to Texas program or how to support future leaders in communities across Texas, please send a note to info@ic2.utexas.edu.

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