Mexican teens vaccinated in San Diego as part of ongoing cross-border program

A bus with a banner reading "Vacunacion" waits at the San Ysidro border crossing.
One of three buses that took young people from Tijuana to be vaccinated at the Mexican consulate in San Diego waits in line at the San Ysidro border crossing Thursday.
(Alexandra Mendoza / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Nearly 150 young people from Baja California arrived Thursday at the Mexican Consulate in San Diego to receive their first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

The effort is part of a cross-border pilot project that began earlier this month to expand access to the vaccine in the San Diego-Tijuana region.

“Health has no borders, and we know the interdependence we have in our region, and for me, it is very important that everything possible is done to make sure our young people are protected,” Supervisor Nora Vargas said during the program’s launching ceremony at the Tijuana Cultural Center, Cecut.


The youths, ranging from 12 to 18, were taken by bus from Tijuana to the Mexican Consulate in Little Italy to receive Pfizer doses that were donated by the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency.

“We live and work on both sides of the border,” said Barbara Jiménez, community operations officer with the agency. “We are focused on the health of our entire binational region.”

A first group received shots Nov. 4; a third group is scheduled to be vaccinated Dec. 2. The goal is to vaccinate about 450 kids from Baja California.

The children were chosen by a coalition of nonprofits, such as the Boys & Girls Club of Tijuana, Tijuana Innovadora and other organizations. All of them had tourist visas and were vetted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Aimé Giles accompanied her daughter and nephew. “Maybe we could have gotten the shot in our country, but it would have taken longer,” she said.

Her nephew, Diego Hurtado, 14, said he was grateful for the opportunity to be vaccinated, given that vaccination is not yet open to people his age in Mexico. “It’s a privilege because back home, we would like to get vaccinated. Now we feel safer leaving the house.”

He added that he now feels more comfortable about visiting his grandparents and uncles.

Mexico’s vaccine rollout has been painfully slow. Only 4% of Mexicans have gotten at least one dose. Those with the means seek COVID shots in U.S.

The group will return in three weeks for the second shot.

While vaccinations in San Diego County are open for children 5 and older, Baja California is preparing to start vaccination for teenagers ages 15 to 17 on Monday.

Last month, Baja California health authorities offered vaccines for kids ages 12 to 17 with underlying health conditions.

Carlos González Gutiérrez, consul general of Mexico in San Diego, said he hopes that efforts such as the cross-border program will help close the vaccination gap on both sides of the border.

“In Mexico, there is still a group lagging, especially those under 18 years of age. We greatly appreciate this donation by the county that allows us to bring young people to be vaccinated at the consulate.”

Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero also praised the support from their neighbors and hoped that the vaccination plan in Mexico would be expanded to include kids and teenagers.

This is the second cross-border vaccination program of its kind at the San Diego-Tijuana border. In May, a similar effort was conducted during which nearly 26,000 maquiladora workers were vaccinated at the San Ysidro border crossing.

With the recent reopening of the U.S.-Mexico land border to nonessential travel, there have also been parents who have come to the U.S. to vaccinate their children on their own.

Elsy Lopez, a Tijuana resident, did so as soon as soon as she had the opportunity. She said her biggest fear was that her child would return to school unvaccinated because vaccines for children take longer in Mexico.

“It was my priority to cross and vaccinate him,” she said. “ I didn’t hesitate for a moment.”

López said her 10-year-old son was constantly asking her about when it would be his turn. He was the only one in her family who had yet to be vaccinated.

Baja California’s secretary of health, José Adrián Medina, said he understands why parents are crossing the border to get their children vaccinated.

“I would do it for my children too if I didn’t have access to the vaccine,” he said, noting that Mexico must continue to work to advance its own vaccination plan.