Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico established a vaccination call center Thursday as it prepares to announce who will be part of the next priority group for COVID-19 shots.
The state has already announced it expects those 75 and older to be part of the next group, and federal recommendations suggest offering the next round of vaccinations also to teachers, grocery store employees and other front-line workers.
Meanwhile, the call center is intended to help people who have had trouble registering for the vaccine online or can’t access the internet.
New Mexicans have reported mixed success with the website – cvvaccine.nmhealth.org – set up to manage the vaccinations. The state is encouraging everyone to sign up with their age, employment and health conditions so they can be alerted when their vaccine is ready.
Dave McCoy, a 77-year-old Albuquerque resident who works for an advocacy group, said he got an email from the state this week notifying him that a vaccine was available. The website allowed him to schedule a day for the appointment, but not a specific time, he said, and when he showed up for his shot at an Albuquerque clinic, he was turned away for lack of an appointment.
McCoy said he and several others waited in the cold for nothing.
“It was a bunch of elderly people,” he said in a Journal interview.
Initial supplies – under “Phase 1a,” as officials called it – targeted health care workers and people at long-term care facilities. But the shots have also been administered to people outside those groups, such as older adults, when supplies are available and to ensure none of the vaccine goes to waste.
Jacob Kuriyan, a Corrales scientist who’s older than 75, reported no problem getting a vaccine shot. He said he booked an appointment online the day after he was notified a vaccine was ready, and he got the shot at an Albuquerque clinic without getting out of the car.
“It was very, very orderly,” Kuriyan said.
Matt Bieber, a spokesman for the Department of Health, said the state is making improvements, but vaccine distribution is going well overall. There have been some instances, he said, of people having trouble scheduling booster shots, a challenge the state is working to address with a new online feature that should be available in the coming days.
“Vaccine registration and scheduling are going well,” Bieber said in a written statement. The department “is seeing tens of thousands of registrations per day; when users receive notification that a vaccine is available, they can schedule appointments in just a few clicks.
The vaccination push comes as New Mexico prepares to announce its plan for opening up eligibility for the shot. Both vaccines available in New Mexico require two doses, spaced a few weeks apart.
Dr. Tracie Collins, who leads the state Department of Health, said this week that she expects the next priority group – known as Phase 1b – to include people 75 and older. That would match a federal recommendation.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also suggests as candidates for vaccination in Phase 1b front-line essential workers – including teachers, grocery store employees and first responders.
But New Mexico hasn’t yet announced its plans.
The CDC’s recommendation for Phase 1c is people 65 and older or those with medical conditions that increase their risk of COVID-19 complications.
Collins estimated earlier this week that about 62,000 to 68,500 vaccines had been administered in New Mexico, from a supply of about 107,000 delivered to the state. The supply sent to New Mexico has since climbed to about 133,000 doses, according to the CDC.
Almost 300,000 people have registered through the state’s vaccine website so far.
“New Mexico is working to deliver vaccine as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Collins said in a written statement Thursday. “We encourage everyone to register – and we are pleased to provide in-person support to assist with that process.”
Cases still climbing
New cases of COVID-19, meanwhile, continued to climb Thursday. New Mexico reported more than 1,800 new infections, pushing the state’s seven-day rolling average to its highest level in about two weeks.
Health officials also reported 39 more virus-related fatalities, taking the statewide death toll to 2,680 residents.
The victims were largely older adults, though they also included two men in their 40s and a woman in her 30s.
The state has averaged about 1,280 new coronavirus cases a day over the past week – an increase of 19% from Jan. 1. It’s also the highest daily average since Dec. 25.
About 14.2% of the state’s COVID-19 tests came back positive in the seven-day period reported by the state.
Health officials reported 722 virus hospitalizations in New Mexico on Thursday, a number roughly in line with recent totals in the low 700s each day.