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When can I get a vaccine?

People enter Tingley Coliseum, a Department of Health vaccination site, on Jan. 6. 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)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico and the rest of the United States are in the early stages of a mass vaccination effort to crush the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vaccines now on the market are proving to be incredibly effective at preventing severe cases of the virus, but the national vaccine rollout has been complicated by logistical challenges as states wrestle with how to get the vaccines out quickly, while also targeting residents most at risk.

Many New Mexicans are contacting the Journal with questions ranging from the very general to the very specific.

Here’s a look at some questions intended to help readers better understand how New Mexico is pursuing vaccination.

Q. Is New Mexico using a phased approach to vaccine distribution?

A. Yes. There are four main phases (1A, 1B, 1C and 2), but with some sub-phases that outline the priorities even more specifically. (For more information on the main phases, see accompanying graphic.)

Exceptions are permitted to ensure no vaccine goes to waste.

New Mexico is now at the beginning of Phase 1B – a massive group expected to cover at least one-quarter of the state’s population.

Christus St. Vincent registered nurse Jeremy Willard prepares a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine last month. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Q. How can I make sure I get a vaccine as soon as I’m eligible?

A. New Mexico is using a website to manage the distribution. Sign up at cvvaccine.nmhealth.org to get in line.

People who lack internet service or need help can call 1-855-600-3453, press option 0 for vaccine questions, and then option 4 for tech support. (The call center has been overwhelmed at times and the state is boosting the number of calls it can field. More details are below.)

Q. I signed up early last week but have not been contacted. Do those who signed up early get vaccinated earlier?

A. Your place in the line for a vaccine isn’t determined by when or how you sign up. It is randomized. That means that once you’re registered, you have the same chance as anyone else in your subgroup to be notified of an appointment when it’s the group’s turn.

It doesn’t hurt to sign up even before the state has moved to your subgroup – because providers may pull from the next group if they have extra appointments available to ensure no vaccines are wasted.

Q. Now that New Mexico has moved into vaccinating people in Phase 1B, how are people prioritized within that group? Is it first come, first served?

A. Most vaccination phases have subgroups. For instance, Phase 1B covers adults 75 and older; people 16 and older with medical conditions that increase their COVID-19 risk; certain front-line employees who cannot work remotely; and some vulnerable populations in group settings, such as inmates – all in that order.

The state is just at the beginning of Phase 1B, meaning adults 75 and older are now the priority.

But within the subgroup, the order in which you’re called for vaccination is random. In other words, everyone who’s 75 or older and preregistered for the vaccine has the same chance of being notified of an appointment. A person who is, say, 95 isn’t ahead of someone who is 85.

The state has launched a public vaccine dashboard – cvvaccine.nmhealth.org/public-dashboard.html. It will be updated Monday through Friday.

Q. How do vaccine providers verify or vet the responses?

A. People who qualify as front-line essential workers will be required to verify their employment and must sign a statement affirming that they’ve provided correct information.

People who qualify because of a medical condition should be prepared to verify the condition through a provider’s note, hospital documents, prescription bottle, prescription or other means.

Verification should be brought with you to the vaccine appointment.

Q. Why do some people who register receive an acknowledgment and code immediately, while others – in the same household and with the same conditions – receive no acknowledgment or code? Yet when they try to register again, they are told they are already registered. Should they worry?

A. The website has had some hiccups as New Mexico built it out and added capabilities.

Anyone who believes they’ve registered but didn’t receive a profile code or ID may call 1-855-600-3453 and press option 0 for vaccine questions, then option 4 for tech support. Also, some have received the code through text or email several days after they registered.

Q. Why is it so hard to get through to the call center? When will it be improved?

A. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last week acknowledged that the call center was overwhelmed and said her administration takes responsibility. The state, she said, had underestimated the number of people who would call.

The center started with six call-takers and was up to 20 by Friday. The goal is to have 41 this week.

The call line offers the option of leaving a message and it is returning calls. One person who left a message Monday received a call back within three hours.

Q. Does the state Department of Health have daily numbers on how many vaccines it has, and how many first and second doses have been administered in New Mexico?

A. New Mexico has launched a public vaccine dashboard – cvvaccine.nmhealth.org/public-dashboard.html – with plans to update it daily Monday through Friday.

The dashboard offered this breakdown Monday:

• 137,531 doses have been administered.

• 44,927 were administered in the past seven days.

• The state has received 175,750 doses.

The vast majority of doses administered are first doses. Both vaccines on the market now require two doses, spaced three or four weeks apart.

The state intends to disclose how many people have received one dose vs. two as the booster shots become more common.

Q. Does the state have any estimate of how many people are eligible in each vaccine group? How quickly will New Mexico move through each group?

A. About 120,000 New Mexicans are 75 and older, the subgroup now prioritized for vaccination. The state vaccination plan released Jan. 8 said it may take “several weeks” for eligible seniors to receive a vaccine.

Almost one-quarter of the state population – about 500,000 people – may qualify under the next priority subgroup, which is anyone 16 or older with certain chronic conditions that increase their risk of COVID-19 complications.

Determining how quickly the state will vaccinate each group is difficult. For one thing, some people in a certain phase may initially opt against signing up for vaccination, but they will move to the front of the line if they register later.

Medical first responders, for example, were covered under Phase 1A. But if they haven’t already been vaccinated, they can still sign up while the state is in Phase 1B.

The subgroups themselves also overlap. Some of the front-line workers who cannot work remotely – a teacher, say – will be eligible to be vaccinated before the state gets to their occupation if they have a chronic medical condition.

The supply of vaccine delivered by the federal government and the approval of other vaccine manufacturers will also influence the pace of vaccinations.

Broadly speaking, Lujan Grisham said she hopes to move through all the Phase 1 groups and begin offering vaccines to the general public – Phase 2 – by early summer.

The state has averaged about 6,400 doses a day over the past week, but state officials have expressed optimism that the pace will grow as new vaccination sites come online and doses arrive from the federal government.

To expand the vaccine rollout, New Mexico will begin using the Pit at the University of New Mexico this week as a shot clinic.

Jose Villegas, an Army National Guard medic, administers a vaccine to Chris Daskalos at a drive-up distribution site. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Q. Why are people who aren’t a priority receiving the vaccine already?

A. The vaccines are stored at low temperatures, and vaccine providers are directed not to waste any as they thaw the supplies.

Vaccine providers can then pull from the next priority group if they have more appointments available than people who sign up for the shots. Some adults over 75, for example, were offered appointments even when the state was in Phase 1A, which focused on hospital personnel and first responders.

The state also acknowledged that some New Mexicans jumped the line when people shared the access codes necessary to book an appointment. State officials say they’ve made technical adjustments to keep that from happening again.

Q. How does New Mexico compare with other states?

A. States are developing their own strategies for vaccine distribution. New Mexico’s phased approach generally matches recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New Mexico ranked No. 8 among states Monday for doses administered per capita, according to the CDC vaccine data tracker. The ranking fluctuates daily, but New Mexico has generally been among the top 15 states.

Q. Why does the national CDC vaccine data tracker have different numbers for New Mexico than reported by the state?

A. Health officials say there’s a lag in reporting to the federal government.

Some vaccine distribution in New Mexico is also being handled outside the state’s control. Most Native American communities, for example, are receiving doses from the federal government.

Q. Why isn’t New Mexico making adults 65 and older a priority?

A. Federal recommendations initially suggested targeting people 75 and older, but a more recent recommendation suggested opening up vaccinations to those 65 and over.

The state Department of Health is reviewing the new recommendation to determine whether to alter its priorities to include adults 65 and older.

Q. Where can New Mexicans view state information themselves?

A. Visit cv.nmhealth.org/covid-vaccine for general information on the phases. To see the state’s most detailed plan, scroll down and click on “learn more” next to the box that says “Current Phase: 1B.”

Source: New Mexico Department of Health documents, interviews and public briefings.

Vials containing five doses each of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine fresh out of a freezer. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)


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