Mexican expats join the race to find a COVID-19 vaccine

Mexicans abroad are volunteering to help find a solution for the pandemic

Mexican expats join the race to find a COVID-19 vaccine
A nurse prepares a shot as a study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine - Photo: Hans Pennink/AP
English 30/09/2020 13:29 Mexico City Alejandra Contreras & Horacio Jiménez/EL UNIVERSAL Actualizada 13:29
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Ernesto Herrera is 51 years old and was born in Mexico City but he has lived for 22 years at Las Rozas in Madrid, Spain. Last September 16, he became the first Mexican to be inoculated with a phase 2 COVID-19 candidate vaccine and he hopes for it to be successful so that the nightmare of the global pandemic.

Ernesto was born in Mexico City but grew up in Mexicali, Baja California and his studies took him to live in Cuba and Germany but love took him to Spain. Now, he is married, has two teenage sons, is a photography director, makes films and political and marketing campaigns, and has done movies in Mexico, Spain, and Europe.

His story against COVID-19 began in early September when he heard Spain’s health minister was enrolling citizens to apply the experimental vaccine, which belongs to the Janssen laboratory, which is part of Johnson & Johnson, just as was done in Germany and Belgium.

The process was to go to any of three hospitals, two of which are located in Madrid: La Paz and La Princesa, and another one is located in Santander, north of Spain. And Ernesto, like any other citizen, called La Princesa, gave his information and was registered in a list to be one of the 190 Spaniards who will help find a vaccine that returns the world back to normal.

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Some days later, he was called into a meeting where they explained to him all the details about the vaccine and the whole process of the clinical trials. They told the volunteers that the vaccine is based on an existing factor that is already proven and they added the coronavirus protein, however, they are not exempt from suffering side effects.

Ernesto said there is no guarantee of obtaining immunity “because it is not known if it is going to work or if you’re going to get worse… and you don’t go for money, because they don’t pay for taking part of this experiment, it’s a matter of will.

“I have many reasons because my sister, who has worked in pharmaceutical laboratories has urged me not to do it, but I have remained pretty firm because I think that I have to give my sons a lesson; I don’t want to be anybody’s teacher besides my children’s, and it is a lesson on human solidarity; I truly believe in that. I participated in politics and it has taught me that being supportive instead of trying to do what politicians do who tell you they are going to help you but forget about people in the end. I’m not a politician; I’m a human being and I belong to society and I participate as I can and this is one way of doing it,” said Ernesto.


They inoculated him last September 16 at the top part of his left arm, like the vaccine against tuberculosis, also known as BCG. He underwent several medical tests prior to that; one of the requirements was not having been infected with COVID-19.

He said that after the application, he had pain in the arm for two days but so far, he has had no side effects. Now, he has to go to the hospital every eight days to get his blood checked to detect if he developed antibodies or immunity or developed any other disease in relation to the vaccine.

The vaccine consists of three doses, which are applied on different dates; a group of 190 Spaniards in a month and the rest in subsequent weeks in order to register the reactions of each population group.

In addition to Ernesto, there are another three Mexican volunteers participating in Pfizer’s clinical trials for coronavirus vaccines. After receiving the doses, the fellow citizens recommend participating in the trials.


Víctor Hernández, a 30-year-old Mexican expat who lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he participated as a volunteer in clinical trials to find an effective vaccine against COVID-19, is part, as other Mexicans abroad, of the phase 3 trials of the vaccine known as BNT162, developed by Pfizer in collaboration with the German pharmaceutical BioNTech.

“They required me to be in good health, be older than 18 years old, and less than 60. They also ask not having traveled abroad in the last 14 days and not having any COVID-19 symptoms.

“Before the first vaccine, you undergo a PCR test and also before the second one. They applied both doses on me. The first was on August 28 and the second on September 16, “ said Victor to EL UNIVERSAL.

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“The same day, I began feeling pain in the arm and tiredness, body aches, and headache.

“The first time, the process lasted for approximately four hours (…) I arrived, they took a blood sample for analysis, made me some questions, made me signed the documents explaining the whole study and the details of the research and the phase 3 of the study,” he said.

Hernández had doubts before volunteering so he investigated how clinical trials worked: “I completely trust clinical trials. Before being a volunteer, I got information about these clinical trials, where they were being performed, who did them, what phase they were in, which were the results in phases 1 and 2, and that was how I decided to join phase 3 for Pfizer and BioNTech.

“There is no reward besides the satisfaction of being a volunteer, of participating and helping this vaccine to be potentially approved.

“I would recommend volunteering for the trials to all those who can,” he mentioned.

Luis Enrique Castellanos also volunteered for Pfizer’s clinical trials. The Mexican who lives in Denver, Colorado since 2007 has received two doses.

“I received the first dose on September 10 and I got the second one yesterday [September 23]. The only effect I had with the first dose was a pain in the shoulder for two days, not very intense, and a few body aches. With the second dose, I had body aches and a bit of joint pain, but that is usual with any vaccine.

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“Since the beginning, they are frank with you and specify that the trial lasts for two years in which there will be six visits. The first is for applying the first vaccine, then, they apply the second one, and then, in the third visit, they perform a blood test to see if the vaccine worked fine on you to check if you have already developed the required antibodies.

“After that, there will be three appointments every six months for more blood tests. They were kind to me at the clinic; they warned me about the risks, the benefits, and helped me make the right decision.

“They helped me with all my doubts; they were highly professional,” he said.

After seeing the response to the call for volunteers published in commercials and newspapers, the fellow citizen decided to sign up in three pharmaceutical companies that contacted him, and from which he chose Pfizer.

“I had read in several newspapers that they needed volunteers, specifically Latin American, for there is a problem in the United States, they are not getting enough Latin American volunteers, so I wanted to contribute.

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“One of the reasons why I decided to volunteer was because I feel young people owe adults in this pandemic.

“I notice that most young people do not care about themselves or don’t take this seriously; they don’t care about taking care of others. The reward is to obtain immunity against this coronavirus,” he asserted.

Carlos Caballero, 32, participated in the tests for the same laboratory in Buenos Aires. Unlike Luis and Víctor, he presented serious effects: “The effects I had, later on, were the same. A lot of nausea the same day of the trial and fever between 37.5 and 38.

“They explained to us which were the effects. The next day, I had a serious headache and body aches. I was really tired, I had a lot of pain in the arm where they inoculated me. It was terrible pain,” he said.

Despite these effects, Carlos recommended, like the other volunteers, to participate in the trials: “Of course I recommend being a volunteer for there is a big possibility of being vaccine, 50% placebo, and 50% vaccine.

“Being empathic and taking care of ourselves and finding a solution for this is something very important.”

The Department of Health and Human Services announced in a statement in late July the agreement between the U.S. government and the laboratory that will allow its massive distribution. Once the vaccine is approved, 100 million doses will be delivered for free.


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