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NM opens vaccinations to older adults and essential workers

People wait for 15 minutes Wednesday after getting a COVID-19 shot at Tingley Coliseum to monitor for adverse reactions. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Older adults, people with chronic medical conditions and front-line essential workers – including some educators – are next in line under New Mexico’s vaccination plan.

The state Department of Health released a broad schedule Friday outlining the expected sequence of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, from winter through summer.

It generally prioritizes New Mexicans by age and risk of infection.

People 75 and older are at the top of the list, followed by adults with medical conditions that could complicate their recovery from the virus.

People stand in line Wednesday at Tingley Coliseum, now in use as a Department of Health vaccination site. Health care workers estimated they averaged just under 300 shots an hour for the 945 people scheduled to receive shots that day. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

A broader group of people who cannot work remotely would come next, including family caregivers and employees in child care centers, schools and grocery stores. The goal is to vaccinate people who have the most person-to-person contact.

“This is welcome news and a critical step in getting back to the educational gold standard, which is in-person learning,” Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said in a written statement.

The state Department of Health made the announcement Friday as New Mexico moved into its Phase 1b round of vaccinations – an expansion from the first phase, which focused on health care workers, first responders, residents and staff at long-term care facilities, and Native American communities.

The population covered by the Phase 1b round, however, exceeds current supply, so the state indicated it will start with older adults and those with preexisting conditions before moving to front-line workers, according to a seven-page plan released Friday.

Calling themselves “tappers,” nurse Lily Ouellett, right, and Angela Owens work to eliminate air bubbles in their syringes. They helped vaccinate hundreds of people at Tingley Coliseum on Wednesday. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Even front-line workers will be prioritized when it’s their turn, starting with family home caregivers and child care staffers. After that, the group spans from people working in education to those employed in hardware stores.

On-site education is now heavily restricted in most of New Mexico to limit disease transmission, but vaccination could aid efforts to reopen schools. The Public Education Department said school employees covered by Phase 1b will include classroom teachers, cafeteria and janitorial workers at schools, and administrative and support staff.

“Many of these workers operate in roles that require significant person-to-person interactions and place them at greater risk of COVID-19 infection,” the vaccine plan says of Phase 1b. “Vaccine access is critical not only to protect these workers, but also to maintain the essential services they provide in New Mexico.”

Phase 1b would end with the vaccination of residents in group settings, including jails, prisons and homeless shelters.

Dr. Tracie Collins, who leads the Department of Health, is scheduled to take questions in an online news conference Monday.

Overlapping phases

Federal recommendations allow for the vaccination rounds to overlap to ensure no doses go to waste.

In New Mexico, for example, some older adults in Phase 1b say they have already been called in to receive shots, even though their phase hadn’t officially started – a step intended to ensure no vaccine is spoiled if supplies exceed demand at certain sites.

New Mexicans who register through the state’s vaccine website – cvvaccine.nmhealth.org – should get a notice when their vaccine is available. The Department of Health is asking everyone to register so that the state can match people with every available appointment.

The site asks for information on a person’s age, health conditions and employment to help manage the vaccination schedule.

People who have trouble with the website or lack internet service can call a state hotline at 1-855-600-3453.

Sequence

The vaccine distribution plan announced Friday suggests this schedule:

• Winter and spring: Phase 1b, a group that includes people 75 and older or most at risk of complications. Front-line employees who cannot work from home would be next, among them early education and K-12 teachers and staff, and people working in grocery stores, public safety and transit, and mortuaries, among other locations.

• Spring: Phase 1c, a group that includes adults 60 and over, in addition to other people who can’t work remotely – such as employees in transportation and logistics, utilities, food service, retail, finance, information technology and communication, media, the legal system and veterinary services.

• Summer: Phase 2, or members of the general public 16 and older. The vaccines haven’t been approved for anyone under 16.

The state schedule is based largely on CDC recommendations. Federal officials have, however, said it’s fine for people to be vaccinated out of order when necessary.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Friday the phases may overlap “if states decide this is best for their situations” or their current supply exceeds demand.

New Mexico’s vaccine plan says workers should be prepared to verify their employment and sign a sworn statement. Qualifying medical conditions may also require verification.

The two vaccines now on the market both require two doses, spaced a few weeks apart, for full protection.

The state estimated Wednesday that about 62,000 to 68,500 vaccines had been administered, from a supply of about 107,000 delivered to the state. The supply has since climbed to about 145,000 doses, according to the CDC.

Spread accelerates

New Mexico reported more than 1,600 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and state calculations show the disease spreading as fast as it has since mid-November.

The Department of Health estimated the state’s COVID-19 transmission rate at 1.12 in the most recent 10-day period with data available. It’s the highest spread rate since Nov. 18.

The figure represents how fast cases are growing, based on statistical modeling. Each person infected with the virus, for example, is expected to infect 1.12 other people on average, according to the calculation.

New Mexico has averaged about 1,300 cases a day over the past week, a 24% increase from New Year’s Day.

The growth comes after health and hospital leaders expressed fear that social gatherings over the holidays would accelerate spread of the disease.

Health officials also tallied 30 more virus-related deaths Friday, pushing the statewide death toll to 2,710 residents.

The state reported 703 coronavirus hospitalizations Friday, roughly in line with recent days.


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