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Deaths, new cases among unvaccinated

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy looks on as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham reads a proclamation honoring Shannon Allen, a doctor at the Nor-Lea Hospital District in Lovington, during a Tuesday event in Santa Fe. The governor honored eight individuals for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – More than 96% of New Mexico’s new COVID-19 cases since February have occurred in individuals that have not been fully vaccinated, top state health officials said Wednesday.

Human Services Secretary David Scrase also said during a briefing with reporters that an even larger share of recent deaths related to the virus – more than 98% over the last five months – were unvaccinated individuals.

While there have not been an insignificant number of “breakthrough” cases reported, or confirmed infections among vaccinated New Mexicans, Scrase said the state’s elevated vaccine administration rate is generally keeping COVID-19 spread at a manageable level.

“We’re in a good spot in New Mexico because of all the vaccinations we’ve done,” Scrase said.

A total of 71.8% of New Mexicans age 18 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Wednesday, while 63.7% of adults had gotten all necessary shots, according to state Department of Health data.

The rise in vaccination rates in recent months has coincided with a drop in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths in New Mexico. But the virus is still spreading and three additional deaths were reported Thursday, bringing the state’s death toll to 4,362 individuals since the pandemic hit in March 2020.

Meanwhile, the Delta variant of COVID-19 that originated in India has caused a spike of new cases and hospitalizations in several states in recent weeks, including Missouri and Arkansas.

The variant has also been on the rise in New Mexico, albeit at lower rates than in other states, as it made up about 3% of all new cases statewide several weeks ago and now makes up about 14% of new cases, Scrase said.

He said he expects the Delta variant to spread more in the coming months, particularly among unvaccinated individuals, since it is a more contagious strain of COVID-19.

“I think we have to stay vigilant, stay on our toes, and really look toward any new emerging trends that could affect the health of New Mexicans,” Scrase said.

With a new school year set to start in New Mexico next month, Scrase and Health Secretary Tracie Collins also said it’s likely the state will continue to require face masks in schools for students and teachers who are not vaccinated.

While a final decision has not been announced, Collins said the state was following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on the issue.

She also said more information about federal approval for the vaccine to be administered to children younger than age 12 could be available this fall. Currently, only individuals 12 and older are eligible to get the shot.

The Wednesday briefing came a day after U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy lauded New Mexico’s vaccine administration efforts during a visit to the state.

But Murthy cautioned there’s still work to be done, saying two-thirds of those who are unvaccinated believe myths about the COVID-19 vaccine, such as fears it can lead to infertility, cause mutations in people’s DNA or even infect individuals with the virus.

“We’re seeing the scale and speed of misinformation spread really increase, in part aided and abetted by technology platforms,” Murthy told the Journal.

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