Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Nearly 220,000 people at the top of the state’s priority list for COVID vaccinations because of their work, age or other risk factors have received at least one dose of the vaccine by registering with the state’s centralized appointment system.
But another 200,000 currently eligible registered New Mexicans were still waiting in the state queue for an initial shot as of Tuesday.
Data released to the Journal this week by the state Department of Health shows that among the 75-and-older group, with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate, about 32,000 registrants had not been vaccinated, while nearly 67% of the 96,706 who registered have received at least one shot.
Of the 265,337 who are registered in the chronic health conditions category, 37% have been at least partly vaccinated. Another 167,849 people in that category are still waiting for at least an initial shot.
Meanwhile, more than 180,000 people, or about one-fourth of all those who have received at least an initial shot from a provider, did so without first registering with the state, the state DOH vaccination website shows. Some providers were offering vaccinations without requiring registration with the state, especially in the early stages.
Now, those waiting in the eligible registered groups are expected to face additional delays.
State officials said this week that teachers and other school employees would be entering the eligibility pool, with an estimated 55,000 to be vaccinated ahead of those in the earlier priority categories by the end of March. That comes as part of a federal directive aimed at getting students back to in-person learning nationwide.
Educators and staffers who haven’t registered for a vaccine with the state are urged to do so at cvvaccine.nmhealth.org.
“We may have more educators and school staff register over the coming weeks,” DOH spokesman Matt Bieber said Wednesday.
Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said this week that the state would still be keeping vaccination appointments for the earlier prioritized groups, with about 7,100 of those scheduled for a first-dose appointment as of Monday.
And while the state is receiving more vaccine than ever before, about 80,000 doses this week, federal government shipments of the third vaccine approved for emergency use in the U.S. from Johnson & Johnson stalled temporarily this week.
The news of potentially longer waits to receive the shots led some New Mexicans to react in online web posts.
“We all know teachers and staff need the vaccine, but now that they got moved up the list, the rest of us in the at risk and older than 60 and essential group just got pushed down the list!! Now it will be a longer wait? Hopefully not too long or too late!!!” Herman Lucero wrote on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Facebook page the day of the announcement of in-person school reopening slated for early April.
According to national media reports, New Mexico was one of the first states to adopt a centralized system to manage vaccinating residents in a phased-in approach. And more than a dozen others have followed suit.
During a recent online interview with The Washington Post, Lujan Grisham touted the merits of the 3-month-old registration system.
“Probably the most important thing is we created a data registry system that pushes out appointments, that helps people get to appointments. … You can do it over the telephone, and it reaches hard-to-reach populations, doesn’t allow us to waste vaccine and, really, to the highest degree possible, allows you to hold priority populations in the positions they should be in to have access to the vaccine, ” the governor told the Post.
The registration system asks for age, occupation and whether a person has any one of more than a dozen chronic health conditions that would put them at a higher risk. As vaccines become available, the system then notifies the person when and where there is an open appointment.
Last week, the DOH sent text messages to those who have registered saying, “New Mexico is the most efficient state in the country for vaccine distribution, but demand still exceeds supply. If you have not received your vaccine, please wait for a notification. Please do NOT show up at a vaccine event without an appointment. Doing so creates additional health risks.” The DOH didn’t respond to a Journal question about how many people received that text message.
But the new glimpse into the registration system offers more specifics about where people stand in the often frustrating wait to be notified, such as:
• Of the 708,075 people registered as of Monday, nearly 62%, or 437,461 people, are currently eligible for vaccination. Under the state’s phased-in system, the top, or 1A, priority encompasses health care workers, medical first responders and those in long-term care settings. That is to be followed by those 75 and older in the 1B-1 group, and the largest category to date, 1B-2, which covers those 16 and over with at least one chronic health condition.
The state plan prioritizes those most at risk for exposure, such as hospital workers or, in the case of seniors and those with chronic conditions, those who are at higher risk of death or serious illness. State officials say the selection for appointments is randomized within each group to be fair to all who have registered.
In the state’s original phase-in plan, educators and staff had been behind the chronic conditions group in priority as part of the category of essential workers who cannot work remotely. They were to join grocery store employees, firefighters and others. But late last week, educators were moved up, and they are now being vaccinated.
Those 60 and over without underlying medical conditions are in the IC group, behind the at-risk group of all ages, and aren’t yet eligible.
However, the state vaccine website shows that 122,682 people in the 60-74 age group have received at least one dose, presumably because they either have chronic conditions or met the criteria for the top priority group of health care workers.
• The state system has sent out more than 465,000 notifications to alert registered eligible New Mexicans about an available appointment for vaccination. But state data shows that only half that number received at least one dose after being notified. The notification process has been scrutinized lately, with Collins promising to give seniors more time to respond because the appointments for vaccinations fill up quickly.
The state ranks at the top of the most efficient vaccination rates, using 99% of its federal supply. As of Monday, 700,000 doses had been administered statewide.
Health officials have said they typically wait until 60% of those in a vaccination phase have received shots before moving on to the next phase.
Two outlets that had been vaccinating hundreds of people outside the registry are now requiring people to first register with the state. Vida Pharmacy in Albuquerque, which has been holding vaccination events at the National Hispanic Cultural Center and the Raymond G. Sanchez Community Center in Albuquerque, now has a registration process that requires registration with the state and then a second registration directly with its pharmacy.
Its website said Wednesday that seniors 75 and older or 65 and older with underlying health conditions can email email@example.com for additional information on events for seniors.
Elsewhere in New Mexico, Guadalupe County Hospital in Santa Rosa had its own vaccination registry but is now accepting registration through the DOH website. According to its website, all those who had registered through the hospital website are urged to register with the DOH for vaccination availability.