Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
One in five New Mexicans 16 and older have received at least an initial dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but the state is planning a new special emphasis on getting shots in the arms of the oldest, most vulnerable population of eligible seniors.
The new campaign aimed at vaccinating those 75 and older, one of the groups most at risk for morbidity and mortality, was unveiled Thursday at a press briefing led by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who gave an upbeat assessment of the state’s progress to greater reopening and virus containment.
At the same time, state Health Department Secretary Tracie Collins announced a new vaccine equity plan to reach out to some of New Mexico’s most socially vulnerable communities.
That includes an alternative registration process to get a vaccine at walk-in or locally scheduled clinics and mobile vaccination teams for remote areas.
Currently, the state advises those seeking a vaccine to register online with the DOH at vaccinenm.org, which then notifies the person of an appointment by text or email. There is also a support phone line for vaccinations at 1-855-600-3453.
Just this week, the state adjusted its reopening strategy that permits counties with the lowest sustained virus spread rates to reopen entertainment venues and bars in limited capacity for the first time in many months. As of this week, however, only four counties are eligible for the new “turquoise” designation.
“Vaccines are a game changer,” said Lujan Grisham, who said she was still waiting to be vaccinated, but is not yet among those populations eligible in New Mexico’s phased-in distribution plan.
Collins said New Mexico is using its doses of vaccines received from the federal government “more efficiently than any other state in the country.” She said one in five New Mexicans 16 and over have received an initial dose, with one in 10 people fully vaccinated.
The state’s centralized phased-in vaccination approach, which currently prioritizes first responders, medical workers, those 75 and older, and those 16 and older with chronic health conditions, was created because the vaccine supply from the federal government isn’t yet meeting demand.
As of Thursday, 53% of those 75 and older in the state had been at least partially vaccinated, according to the DOH vaccine dashboard.
“We’re really making sure that we get that most vulnerable group and get at least 60% of them vaccinated,” said Collins.
Collins said the new outreach for eligible seniors will include four vaccine clinics to be held around the state that will be hosted by the state Aging and Long-Term Services Department in partnership with senior centers.
“We’re going to increase vaccinations for seniors by 10% over the next two weeks,” Collins said. Details about the clinics weren’t immediately available late Thursday.
Collins said the DOH’s new “equity” plan for vaccine distribution will focus on those areas of the state with a high COVID-19 case count and “socially vulnerable populations.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, socially vulnerable populations include those with special needs, such as, but not limited to, people without vehicles, people with disabilities, older adults, and people with limited English proficiency.
“We’re looking at taking a portion of our doses and ensuring that they go to those vulnerable populations,” Collins said during Thursday’s briefing. “But, keep in mind, we’re getting more doses each week, so it’s not like we’re taking away doses from any one group. It’s just that we’re being very strategic about allocating to the most vulnerable.”
Lujan Grisham said she learned Thursday that President Biden is now predicting an even faster rollout of vaccine to states once the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is distributed in the near future. New Mexico had been projected to have vaccines available to the general public by summer. But the governor said Thursday the President has indicated that could be moved up to May.
“I want New Mexicans to feel good. It’s moving faster, that’s the point. Maybe not exponentially, but it’s really moving fast,” she said. “That’s what we want.”
Lujan Grisham said she believes New Mexicans have a higher-than-average interest in getting vaccinated.
So far, more than 650,000 people have registered for the vaccine on the state’s website.
Meanwhile, Presbyterian Healthcare Systems has reported that 79% of New Mexicans are interested in getting the vaccine, up from 49% in early December, said Dr. David Scrase, cabinet secretary of the state Human Services Department and the governor’s top medical adviser in the pandemic response.
Lujan Grisham said the new reopening changes announced this week show that the state “can manage high-risk activity” as long as vaccines are distributed, and the public continues to practice social distancing and wearing masks.
State health officials on Thursday reported 299 new cases of the virus, bringing the 7-day average to 334. Thirteen additional deaths were also reported, with those who died ranging in age from their 30s to their 90s.
Under changes to the state’s public health orders, outdoor areas at such facilities as the Hinkle Family Fun Center and Cliff’s Amusement Park in Albuquerque are allowed to open in a limited fashion, the Governor’s Office confirmed Thursday.
Both Albuquerque facilities are considered “recreational” and, under the restrictions applying to the yellow level, are allowed to open at 33% capacity.
The “recreational facilities” category now includes aquariums, amusement parks, arcades, basketball courts, baseball fields, bowling alleys, botanical gardens, family entertainment centers, football fields, go-kart courses, golf courses, ice-skating rinks, museums with interactive displays or exhibits, miniature golf courses, ski areas, soccer fields, swimming pools, tennis courts, youth programs, guided raft tours, guided balloon tours and zoos.
Colleen Wyatt, marketing manager at Hinkle Family Fun Center, said Thursday the center is working to develop an opening plan. The center – which typically employs close to 100 people in an average year – has been closed since March and has furloughed all but eight or nine employees. Wyatt said the company’s 2020 revenue was down 95% from years past.
“This was surprising and unexpected for us, but we’re very grateful,” she said of the state’s new reopening strategy. “… We’ve really missed everybody. That’s employees and guests alike.”
Journal business editor Gabrielle Porter contributed to this story