Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – The number of eligible New Mexicans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 hit 51% on Thursday – but it could be even higher than that.
That’s because a number of New Mexicans have, for various reasons, traveled out of state to get the vaccine.
As of Thursday, nearly 52,000 state residents had self-reported getting a first vaccine dose outside New Mexico, according to Department of Health figures, and 39,033 have reported getting second doses.
While those figures are included in the state’s vaccine data that is used in part to set county-based business restrictions, health officials acknowledge the actual number could be even higher.
In addition, the vaccine getaways could at least partially explain lower vaccination rates in eastern New Mexico, where some residents routinely travel to Texas for doctor visits.
Lance Pyle, the Curry County manager, said many local residents traveled to Texas to get the vaccine earlier this year since it was more readily available there at the time.
He said he even helped a couple from Santa Fe as they drove to Muleshoe, Texas, to get their vaccines.
“I feel the overall vaccination rates are higher not only in Curry County, but the entire state” than reflected in state data, Pyle told the Journal.
But he also said that other factors are likely behind the lower vaccination rates in many eastern New Mexico counties, including misinformation about the vaccine and a reluctance among younger adults in particular to get vaccinated.
While Pyle said he got the vaccine as soon as he was eligible, not all elected officials from the part of the state sometimes known as “Little Texas” have done so.
State Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, said he has not gotten the COVID-19 vaccine after he tested positive for the virus several times but never experienced symptoms.
“I would say it’s just a personal preference,” he said in an interview this week, adding his wife had decided to get vaccinated.
He also cited a pervasive regional wariness – and weariness – toward government-imposed restrictions enacted in response to the pandemic that has now killed 4,112 individuals after two additional deaths were reported Thursday.
“I know there’s a lot of people down here who don’t think things have been done right and don’t trust the government,” Gallegos said.
Vaccine rates lower in east NM
Statewide, more than 62% of New Mexicans had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 51% of eligible residents were fully vaccinated as of Thursday, according to DOH data.
But vaccination rates were much lower than the statewide average in some New Mexico counties, primarily those located in the eastern part of the state along the Texas border.
In Roosevelt County, for instance, only 24.4% of eligible residents were fully vaccinated, according to DOH data.
And the rates were not much higher in Curry County, which had a 30.3% vaccination rate, and in the southeastern New Mexico counties of Lea, Eddy and Chaves.
During a recent news conference, state Health Secretary Tracie Collins acknowledged the lower vaccination rates in southeast New Mexico.
She said state health officials would be traveling to the region to meet with local leaders to discuss the issue.
In addition, Collins said her agency had requested information from Texas health officials about how many New Mexicans may have crossed state lines to get vaccinated but had not yet received such data.
‘I’m not taking the damn shot’
Vaccine rates play a key role in New Mexico’s current approach to the pandemic.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has vowed to eliminate most restrictions once the state reaches 60% of eligible residents fully vaccinated – a mark the state appears to be track to hit in late June, if not sooner.
In recent weeks, state health officials have increasingly turned to on-site vaccination clinics and primary care physicians in an attempt to reach state residents who might be reluctant or too busy to seek out the COVID-19 vaccine.
In addition, parents of children 12 years of age and older can now register and schedule their children for a vaccination appointment at a state website – vaccineNM.org.
Until recently, the COVID-19 vaccine had only been approved for individuals age 16 and older.
But boosting vaccination rates in eastern New Mexico likely won’t happen overnight.
Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said he doesn’t know exactly why his home county has one of the state’s lowest vaccination rates.
He said a Portales hospital has provided a drive-through vaccine option, adding people from Albuquerque and other parts of the state have traveled there to get their vaccine doses.
But Ingle, who got vaccinated himself, said he also knows local residents who have expressed resistance to getting the vaccine.
“I do know some people that just said, ‘I’m not taking the damn shot,'” he said.