New Mexico’s vaccine rollout getting mixed reviews

health official for NM via webinar

By Adam Evarts / NM News Port /

With New Mexico now in the second phase of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, experts and citizens share positive and negative views. 

The state indicates the mass vaccination effort is going well. It has 200 providers enrolled in administering the shots. As posted on the state’s vaccine dashboard there are nearly 572,000 people who have registered to receive a vaccine. And so far, over 50% of those who have registered — nearly 292,000 — have received the first dose of the vaccine, with a little over 67,000 that have received the second dose of the vaccine.

Dr. Tracie Collins, Secretary-designate for the New Mexico Department of Health, said at a recent press conference, the state average in administering vaccines have gone up over the past several weeks. “We are giving out 9,000 vaccines a day,” Collins stated. “That is double the amount that we were doing just two weeks ago.”

Compared to other states, New Mexico is proceeding quite well. The New York Times has reported that 10.4% of New Mexico’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, which is good enough to rank New Mexico third best of all the states — and above the national average of 8.2%. As for New Mexicans who have received BOTH doses, the report ranks New Mexico sixth best, as 3% of New Mexicans have gotten a second dose of the vaccine.

New Mexico’s first phase of the roll-out began in December, concentrating on front-line health providers and extremely high-risk populations. The state is now in the next phase of the rollout, focused especially on people over 75 years old. In this phase, nearly 800,000 New Mexicans are eligible to receive a vaccine. This list shows which groups are eligible.

“So just a reminder that most of us are in more than one group, some of us are in many groups and everyone has permission and is encouraged to move to the highest priority group they can,” said Dr. David Scrase, Secretary of the New Mexico Human Services Department, during a press conference. 

Scrase also emphasized that vaccine providers should adhere to the guidelines and prioritize those subgroups currently eligible to receive the vaccine.

But concerns abound — largely having to do with how rapidly the shots are happening, who is next in line, and if some areas are benefiting more than others. 

This week the University of New Mexico Hospital paused administering vaccines at University Arena due to shortages of the vaccine, something that UNMH is working with the federal government to resolve. As of now, there is no set date on when vaccines will begin to be administered at University Arena again.

Among those who are pressing to receive the vaccine are the state of New Mexico’s educators. Although the Centers for Disease Control have advised students to return to in-person classrooms — with certain safety precautions — teachers are demanding to be vaccinated in turn. Teachers will not be eligible until the third phase of the rollout is implemented.

Those teachers who did receive the vaccine before the pause are still eligible to receive their second dose as required.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a press conference recently that school districts can go back to a hybrid of in-person and online learning beginning on February 8th.  — leaving many to wonder if the state is going to expedite vaccines for educators. Albuquerque Public Schools has decided to wait until February 17th to discuss going back to a hybrid format.

The NMDOH is not ready to give educators vaccines as of yet. “The teachers who are going back into the classroom, if they’re 75 or older, they can be vaccinated,” Dr. Collins said. “There are plenty of teachers that have a chronic condition that meets the eligibility for the first two groups.”

Another concern is whether the vaccine is being administered enough to the low-income areas of New Mexico that have been hit the hardest. New Mexico In Depth reports those concerns are being shared by residents in some low-income communities.

Dr. Collins said that the Health Department is lobbying for more vaccines in order to ramp up the rollout for all New Mexicans and that there will be additional choices of vaccines in the near future. 

Meanwhile, New Mexico is down to around 600 new COVID-19 cases a day. The highest spike in the state began in late September and lasted until the middle of January, averaging as high as 2,000 new cases a day for two weeks straight in December.

The lower numbers are a good sign, according to Dr. Scrase. “I’m not good at sports analogies, but with the lower number of cases and amount of people getting vaccinated, this feels like the start of a fourth-quarter comeback.”

You can follow Adam Evarts on Twitter @adam_evarts19 and NM News Port @NMNewsPort

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