Santa Fe hospital workers are first in state to get vaccine - Albuquerque Journal

Santa Fe hospital workers are first in state to get vaccine

Dominick Armijo, a registered nurse at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, gets the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from Jeremy Willard, another nurse, at the hospital on Monday. Armijo and four others were the first of 50 vaccinated at the hospital that day. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Dominick Armijo closed his eyes and braced for the sting.

He was one of the first New Mexicans to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, a landmark moment in the state’s fight against the virus that has killed nearly 2,000 state residents.

Armijo, nursing manager at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, then gathered with four colleagues who also got the vaccine Monday as a small crowd erupted into applause.

“Quick and easy – painless,” Armijo said of the vaccine.

By day’s end, 50 employees at the Santa Fe hospital had received vaccinations against COVID-19, becoming the first group of New Mexicans innoculated against the virus that first struck the state nine months ago.

A vial of five doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine had just been taken out of a freezer in its powder form.

The shot given to the Christus St. Vincent employees was the same vaccine being rolled out at hospitals throughout the country on Monday. As many as 20 million people may be vaccinated by the end of 2020, marking just the start of the largest vaccination campaign in the country’s history.

Christus St. Vincent received a total of 975 doses of the vaccine – one of the only hospitals in the state to have received any vaccines so far – CEO Lillian Montoya told the Journal on Monday.

Gallup Indian Medical Center, which is run by the Indian Health Service, also received doses of the vaccine.

Thousands of doses arriving

Matt Nerzig, a spokesman for the Department of Health, said New Mexico is slated to receive 17,550 doses of the vaccine through Wednesday, all of which will go to frontline health care workers.

Hospital officials said the initial doses will go to employees most at risk of contracting COVID-19 while working. Armijo and many other Christus St. Vincent employees who received shots on Monday work in Frost 19 ward, where staff treat dozens of COVID-19 patients every day.

Jeanna Martinez, a pharmacy technician at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, adds saline to vials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. Fifty health care workers there received the vaccine. ( Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The hospital has seen an influx of patients in recent weeks, both from the Santa Fe area and patients transferred from more rural facilities, as cases have surged in Santa Fe County and elsewhere.

“There’s a lot of us that come into direct contact,” said Dr. Rafael Garabis, who also received the vaccine. “We believe in the PPE (personal protective equipment) we’ve been using … but this adds an extra layer.”

Other New Mexico hospitals aren’t far behind.

Calling it the “bright spot on the horizon,” top physicians at Albuquerque-area hospitals said during a news conference Monday that they are expecting to receive their first doses of the vaccine in the next few days. Lovelace Health System, for example, was expecting to receive the vaccines Tuesday and distribute them Wednesday, said Dr. Vesta Sandoval, chief medical officer at Lovelace.

University of New Mexico Hospital and Presbyterian Healthcare Services are also expecting their first doses soon.

Doctors at Presbyterian and UNM said they hope to vaccinate their entire health care workforce by the end of the year.

The drug’s arrival comes as New Mexico reported 21 more coronavirus deaths Monday, making it the deadliest seven-day stretch of the pandemic so far. The state has averaged about 32 deaths a day over the past week – roughly three times as many as its longtime peak from mid-May, when about 10 residents a day died, according to a Journal analysis.

But hospitalizations fell for the third straight day and the state is now averaging its lowest number of new cases a day since mid-November.

Dr. Irene Agostini, chief medical officer at University of New Mexico Hospital, said the hospitals have divided their workforce into tiers. The first vaccines will go to first tier, which is those who work directly with COVID patients. They then hope to quickly expand to all other health care workers.

“We all know we’ll be getting more vaccines in the next weeks. So, we are confident that all the health care workers who work in our hospital – that includes anybody who would come into contact with a patient by any means – will get vaccinated,” Agostini said.

The batch of vaccines coming early this week will be enough to vaccinate a third of Presbyterian’s health care workforce, said Dr. Jeff Salvon-Harman, chief patient safety officer at Presbyterian. He said the Emergency Use Authorization the Pfizer vaccine received from the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t allow hospitals to require their employees take the vaccine. But, for the most part, hospital officials said their employees are eager to get the shot.

People receiving the shot will take two equal doses, the second coming three weeks after the first, Salvon-Harman said.

The DOH has scheduled a news conference for today to discuss the initial rollout of the vaccine.

Threat continues

Despite the arrival of the vaccine, health care officials said it’s not time to put away the masks as it will likely be many months before the vaccine is available to the general public.

For those reasons, physicians ask that people continue to practice social distancing, wear masks and avoid large gatherings during the upcoming holidays.

New Mexico’s official coronavirus-related death toll now stands at 1,978 residents, roughly the population of Moriarty.

The 21 deaths reported Monday included adults ranging in age from their 40s to their 90s. Six were from Bernalillo County, the most populous county in the state.

There were 860 people with COVID-19 hospitalized throughout the state on Monday, according to state officials. While the COVID patient population has dropped 8% in the past three days, Sandoval said the facilities remain above their regular capacity.

“Of course, this a great opportunity for us to be able to provide (the vaccine) to our workers,” she said. “It is not a solution at this point. It is not going to stop us from having other surges. So, we need to really understand that the need for the mask and the need to social distance still exists.”

Home » Journal North » Journal North Recent News » Santa Fe hospital workers are first in state to get vaccine

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages


Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.
Bills on bestiality, law enforcement cameras among those signed ...
ABQnews Seeker
A bestiality ban, an election code ... A bestiality ban, an election code update and more were signed into law Thursday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham
Donald Trump indicted; 1st ex-president charged with crime
ABQnews Seeker
NEW YORK (AP) -- Donald Trump ... NEW YORK (AP) -- Donald Trump has been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury, prosecutors and defense lawyers said Thursday, making him the first ...
Top House Republicans are asking for a federal probe ...
ABQnews Seeker
Top state House Republicans have asked ... Top state House Republicans have asked a federal watchdog to investigate New Mexico's Department of Health, after the recent disclosure of abuse cases involving ...
Lujan Grisham travels to Florida for Democratic governors meeting
ABQnews Seeker
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is traveling ... Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is traveling to Florida on Thursday for a meeting of the Democratic Governors Association. She is expected to return Monday. ...
FBI intervenes in alleged gang robbery of Albuquerque drug ...
ABQnews Seeker
Federal authorities broke up an alleged ... Federal authorities broke up an alleged robbery plot by Syndicato Nuevo Mexico gang members targeting an associate who reportedly sold drugs out of his ...
Photos: Isotopes host media day
ABQnews Seeker
Police ID man shot in foot by officers during ...
ABQnews Seeker
Police have identified the armed man ... Police have identified the armed man who officers shot at — putting a bullet in his foot — before using a Taser to detain ...
New Mexico has a sweeping new election law. Here ...
ABQnews Seeker
Legislation signed into law Thursday makes ... Legislation signed into law Thursday makes a host of changes intended to protect Native American voting rights in New Mexico. But it will also ...
Flix Brewhouse video shows man entering theater kitchen with ...
ABQnews Seeker
Security video from Flix Brewhouse last ... Security video from Flix Brewhouse last week shows a man carrying a firearm into the theater's kitchen, where employees confront him and wrestle the ...