The state re-jiggered its priority list for COVID-19 vaccination eligibility on Thursday, focusing on those 60 and older who have qualifying severe health conditions.
And for the thousands of New Mexicans who qualify, that means getting a vaccine sooner rather than later via the state’s appointment system.
Because of the randomized nature of the state’s registration appointment system, an 18-year-old who was obese conceivably has had the same chance of being selected for a vaccine appointment as a 70-year-old with numerous qualifying health conditions.
Now, those 60 and older with at least one of 12 severe health conditions will be prioritized for vaccination appointments within the larger pool of people 16 and older who are at risk because of their health conditions.
“Age is the single most important predictor of COVID-related vulnerability, and some health conditions place residents at much greater risk of COVID-related health complications,” said New Mexico Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins in a news release. “Prioritizing vaccine for New Mexicans in these groups will save lives.”
In its phased-in vaccination program, the state put top priority on health care workers and first responders, followed by those 75 and older, and then the largest category of those 16 and older with at least one chronic health condition. More recently, the state announced a fourth group for eligibility: educators and school staff.
More than 500,000 people statewide have been identified by the state Department of Health as eligible for vaccinations in the category of 16 years and older with a least one chronic health condition.
“Given the size of the chronic conditions phase … DOH saw it as important to focus on the most vulnerable members of the chronic conditions group,” said agency spokesman Matt Bieber.
Of those on the state registry, about 264,860 people ages 16 and older with such health conditions have registered on the state’s vaccination website. But so far 37% of those registered had been at least partially vaccinated as of earlier this week.
Bieber said 87,720 of those who have registered with the state for a vaccination appointment are 60 or older with a severe health condition. Less than half, or 39,869 have received a first shot of the vaccine and 6,722 have appointments to do so.
Registration on the website is voluntary but urged by state health officials. Some vaccine providers are not requiring such registration, but generally have abided by the state’s priority list of vaccinating only those eligible.
New Mexico is now one of only two states in the country limiting vaccinations by age group to those 75 and older. Most others are vaccinating those 65 and older, even without a health condition.
Older adults are at greater risk of requiring hospitalization or dying if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 than younger adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Bieber said with the change announced Thursday, only those who have certain severe conditions will get priority within the 16 and older group.
Those conditions are: cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), intellectual and developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome, heart conditions, immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant, obesity with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, or severe obesity with a BMI of 40 or greater, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, smoking and Type 2 diabetes.
Those who fall into the category of “might be at increased risk,” with conditions that include asthma and hypertension, are not eligible for prioritization within the group.