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Hundreds of thousands waiting for 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

New Mexico has distributed more than 200,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine. Still, hundreds of thousands of people who are qualified to get the vaccine haven’t yet received a shot.

And state health officials say it could be months before there is enough vaccine to inoculate all of them, let alone move on to vaccinating other key groups, including those who work in essential businesses.

Vaccines are arriving as the state is seeing encouraging trends in the spread of the virus. The state reported fewer than 500 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Monday for the first time in more than three months. And state health officials said based on current data, it’s likely the number of people dying each day because of complications with COVID-19 will also decrease.

Many qualify

Of the 221,375 doses of vaccine the state has received, 203,830 have been delivered, said Dr. Tracie Collins, the secretary-designate of the Department of Health. The number of individuals who have received either the first or both required shots was not available Monday.

The number means the state has delivered more than 92% of the doses it has received, which makes New Mexico one of the most efficient states in the country, she said.

But those doses mean just a fraction of as many as 800,000 of New Mexico’s 2 million residents who are currently qualified for a vaccine have received at least one shot, Collins said. It takes two doses of the vaccine, delivered weeks apart, before a person is believed to have maximum immunity.

In addition to about 138,000 health care workers, Collins said, the state also has about 150,000 folks age 75 or older. She added that 466,000 residents have a chronic condition and are also currently eligible to receive the vaccine.

Meanwhile, the state is receiving between 25,000 and 35,000 doses of the vaccine each week. So it will be some time before all of those individuals are vaccinated, she said. She did say that health officials are hopeful the number of vaccines being distributed across the country will increase, which could speed up vaccination efforts.

“We could vaccinate 30,000 New Mexicans each week. But if you look at what the demand is compared to the supply, we ultimately need more vaccine,” she said. “It may take several months to vaccinate currently eligible populations.”

The state is encouraging people to register for the vaccine on the health department’s website at vaccineNM.org.

Collins acknowledged that health officials have heard stories of people making up chronic conditions during registration in an effort to jump the line.

“This is a time when everyone is trying to get the vaccine and we don’t have enough so we’ve had to prioritize those groups most at risk,” Collins said. “If you jump the line you’re actually allowing someone else to wait who is really in need of this vaccine and is at risk of serious complications.”

Encouraging trends

New Mexico’s vaccination efforts come as the state is seeing improvement as far as the spread of coronavirus. The state reported 494 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, continuing a recent downward trend. Of those cases, 143 were in Bernalillo County.

Monday was the first time since mid-October that the state reported fewer than 500 cases in a day, and it dropped the state’s seven-day average to 776 cases per day.

The state didn’t provide any hospitalization data on Monday because of a disruption in reporting.

The state reported 12 additional deaths Monday, bringing the statewide toll to 3,157 deaths related to COVID-19. The seven-day average of deaths now stands at 28.86 deaths per day, according to a Journal analysis.

Dr. David Scrase, the Cabinet secretary for human services in the state, said COVID-related deaths typically come about four weeks after a confirmed case. Based on the current trends, it’s likely the state will see bigger declines in daily deaths in early February.

Also, Scrase said on Monday the state’s positivity rate, meaning the share of coronavirus tests that come back positive, had dipped to 7.3% after being above 10% for several months.

The state’s goal is a positivity rate of 5% or less.

“When we’re above 5% on test positivity rate it means in general we don’t have a lot of confidence that we’re seeing all the cases,” Scrase said. “This is an early sign that maybe … we’re getting the pandemic under better control.”

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