Ecuador is vaccinating hundreds, possibly thousands, of Peruvians who have crossed the border irregularly because of a lack of vaccines in their own country. “It is our policy to deny no one a vaccine, no matter their origin,” says the Ministry of Health’s southern regional director Isabel Cueva. “We have opened vaccinations to the refugees in our country so we will provide shots to our Peruvian friends as well as to people from Venezuela and Colombia.”
The flow of Peruvians into El Oro and Loja Provinces has been blamed for the introduction of the delta Covid-19 variant into Ecuador but Cueva says the blame is misplaced. “The people we see crossing the border know that the vaccines are effective and want to get them as soon as possible given the dire health situation in Peru,” she says. According to the Pan American Health Organization, Peru is suffering almost 300 percent more Covid cases and deaths as Ecuador.
“As far as the claim that the Peruvians are responsible for the delta variant in Ecuador, we knew it was coming anyway and that there was no way to stop it,” Cueva says. “It would have come eventually from various sources, including air travel, and we are prepared to handle it. It is unfair to blame the Peruvians.”
According to Cueva and other public health officials, most of the Peruvians are being vaccinated in Huaquillas and Loja, the largest Ecuadorian cities close to the border. Officials say they are keeping track of the vaccines given to foreigners but have not released numbers.
Ecuadorian and Peruvian police are investigating claims that so-called coyotes are organizing trips across the border for Peruvians, charging $50 to $100 per head to guide clients across unmanned border crossings. “They are going through wilderness paths and trails that have no security,” an immigration officer in Loja said. “We do not have the personnel to patrol the entire border so it is possible to make the transfer at a number of points.”
According to Cueva, there are more than enough vaccines for all comers. “Almost 70 percent of Huaquillas residents and 77 percent Loja residents have received at least one dose of the vaccines and most have received two so there is no shortage. We recognize the international nature of this disease and feel it is our obligation to provide vaccinations.”