EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A massive COVID-19 vaccination effort has begun in Sonora cities bordering Arizona, one more step to bring about the end of non-essential border travel restrictions in force since March 2020.

The application of around 90,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines in San Luis Rio Colorado, Puerto Peñasco, Altar and Sonoita will be followed by more vaccinations in Nogales, Agua Prieta, Naco and other communities in northern Sonora early next month, Mexican federal officials said.

This comes on the heels of similar efforts in Baja California and Chihuahua earlier this month.

Mexican officials said the goal is to increase COVID-19 immunity on the Mexican side so that citizens of both countries can cross the border to shop, eat and visit family members, something they’re not allowed to do now. The travel restrictions are meant to slow the cross-border spread of COVID-19.

“The negotiations are ongoing. I have instructed our Foreign Minister, Marcelo Ebrard, to establish communication not only with the (U.S.) federal government, but with the governor or California and authorities in San Diego (county) in the case of Baja California,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Tuesday morning.

Lopez Obrador said local authorities on the U.S. side of the border have been cooperative because their merchants are hurting because the restrictions have cost them their Mexican shoppers. In Tijuana, San Diego health authorities facilitated vaccinations for maquiladora workers. In El Paso, county authorities are getting ready to vaccinate at least 30,000 maquiladora workers from Juarez starting next week.

“We have progress. They are helping because they have been affected […] this is a common market, a common border. There is interest in us applying vaccines to reopen the border,” the president said at his daily news conference on YouTube. “We will continue to propose (the reopening of the border). We proposed it to Vice President Harris. We received (vaccine) donations and they are being used for the purpose of creating the conditions to reopen the border.”

Asked if he believes the U.S. and Mexico would be fully reopening the border by July 22, Lopez Obrador was non-committal. “We cannot say anything now,” the president said. “When Ebrard returns, he will give us a briefing.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection earlier this month extended the non-essential border land travel restrictions through July 21.

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