ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The first coronavirus vaccines arrived in New Mexico on Monday as hospitals prepared to distribute doses to frontline health care workers.
Shipments arrived at the New Mexico Department of Health’s warehouse and at a hospital in Santa Fe, where the first group of workers at high to medium risk was vaccinated. They included respiratory care, nursing and radiology specialists.
In all, New Mexico will get 17,550 doses as part of the first distribution wave and hospital officials expressed confidence that there would be enough doses for all employees who want to be inoculated.
The shipments came as new COVID-19 cases have decreased but hospitalizations and deaths remain high.
“The vaccine is coming, and that is good news — but there will be new COVID-19 patients today, tomorrow, and the next day,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, said in a tweet. “Please join the many New Mexicans who continue to use the tools we have to save lives: stay home and mask up if you must go out.”
On Sunday, New Mexico tied its previous record of 44 for the number of coronavirus-related deaths reported in a single day. The statewide death toll inched toward 2,000 with an additional 21 deaths reported Monday. Meanwhile, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began has topped 121,200.
Leaders of three of the state’s largest health care providers said during a briefing Monday that they’re excited about the prospect of vaccinations for medical staff who work daily with COVID-19 patients and other health care workers who are at high risk.
But they said the vaccinations won’t change the way hospitals operate and that personal protective equipment and other protocols that have been adopted over the last several months will remain in place.
“It is not a solution at this point. It is not going to keep us from having other surges at this time so we need to really understand that the need for the masks and the need to social distance still exists,” said Dr. Vesta Sandoval, the chief medical officer at Lovelace Health System.
She and officials from University of New Mexico Hospital and Presbyterian Healthcare Services said the organizations have provided information to their employees about the vaccinations and they plan to receive doses when it’s their turn.
Sandoval said being vaccinated is safer than suffering a COVID-19 infection or running the risk of infecting others.
New Mexico hospitals recently submitted vaccination plans to the state, which was coordinating distribution.
Hospital officials in Albuquerque said they expected to receive their doses later this week and would immediately vaccinate frontline workers who opt in. Receiving the vaccination will be voluntary for the health care workers.
At Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, officials described Monday’s vaccine delivery as the “best unboxing in history” and they shared photos of workers in the hospital’s pharmacy opening the package.
Under the state’s plan, later shipments will be distributed to staff and residents at long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. Decisions are still pending about which groups of people to vaccinate after that.
State health officials have said critical workers and vulnerable populations include police and corrections officers, public transit workers, child care center personnel and possibly teachers.