Editorial: NM right to open up boosters to all adults - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: NM right to open up boosters to all adults

Despite a surge in infections in many parts of the country, the decision on expanding eligibility for COVID-19 booster shots to all adults is still mired in the bureaucracy of the Centers for Disease Control.

Fortunately, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her top health advisers have chosen not to wait, breaking with CDC guidance on boosters as the state sees a rise in overall and breakthrough cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The governor Friday issued an order opening up booster shots to any adult who wants the extra dose and has waited the requisite time since their previous shot. Colorado, California and West Virginia have as well. “I would strongly encourage every New Mexican to register for a booster today,” she said. “We are ready to get shots in arms.”

While the move could be interpreted as defying the CDC guidance, it’s a good decision and not a moment too soon. Although about 73.5 % of New Mexico adults are fully vaccinated, acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said data now show the effectiveness of the initial vaccines dips in about five months and only about 15% of New Mexico adults have received boosters. “Providing boosters for adults will significantly increase levels of immunity protection across our state — and that’s essential for all of us,” Scrase said.

The CDC, in typical murky fashion, says those age 65 and up are eligible for a booster, and younger adults with certain underlying conditions or who live and work in high-risk settings are as well. Whether the agency says they should, or simply may, depends on age bracket. So good luck trying to figure it out — some people below the 65 age cutoff have successfully gotten boosters; others have been turned away.

The governor cut through that red tape by simply declaring the entire state to be high risk. Unfortunately, that’s not an overstatement. Case numbers and hospitalizations have surged — 3,712 new cases Friday through Monday, with 22 additional deaths and 498 hospitalizations. Presbyterian and University of New Mexico hospitals, along with San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington, have invoked crisis of care standards to allow them to better manage, or if necessary ration, care in overloaded and understaffed hospitals.

“This is really an unsustainable level of activity,” says Dr. Michael Richards, vice chancellor of clinical affairs for UNM’s health system.

It’s not just COVID patients adding stress to N.M.’s health-care system, which nationally has one of the lowest numbers of hospital and ICU beds per capita. Many people have put off treatment for health problems, either through fear of COVID and/or the governor’s restrictions on “non-emergent” health care treatment during the early surges of the virus and shortages of protective gear in hospitals. “The people that don’t have COVID are much sicker, so they are staying longer,” said Dr. Jason Mitchell, Presbyterian’s chief medical officer.

While the political, public opinion and legal battles over vaccine mandates go on at the national, state and local levels, now that it’s clear the efficacy of the vaccines wanes over time it makes sense to open up eligibility to any adult who wants one. And many seeking boosters will be in the 40 to 65 age category, which puts them at significantly higher risk for serious illness or death from COVID than healthy teens or grade-schoolers.

There is a good argument for vaccinating those groups as well, but accelerating the booster shot process for all adults who want one to help protect them and their loved ones is good health policy and good politics.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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