The wide availability of the COVID-19 vaccination to any Lea County resident could be here in six months.
“I think that because of supply of the vaccine and the number of people who need to be vaccinated, it’ll still be May before we reach a level where most people can be vaccinated,” Nor-Lea Hospital CEO David Shaw said on Tuesday. “Now in terms of having an impact on the virus and flattening the curve and turning things around, I think that can happen quicker.”
These comments come a day after Shaw made a presentation to the Hobbs City Commission on the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination to the Lea County population.
Shaw’s presentation talked about the development, composition, manufacture and distribution of the vaccination. Nor-Lea Hospital is scheduled to receive around 250 vaccinations a week, while Lea Regional Medical Center will receive around 100 vaccinations. Last week, health care workers and first responders received vaccinations.
The vaccinations will be distributed based on the design module presented by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
“The CDC came out with their guidelines over the weekend,” Shaw told the commission. “We are vaccinating group 1A, who are people associated with a health care issue, a long-term care facility and anyone who is on the front lines. So we are in the process of doing that. Group 1B will be balanced between identifying 75-year old and older in our community and offering them the vaccine. In addition, we will be doing front-line essential workers. We have reached out to the front line essential workers just today and we are starting to gather applications for the vaccine so we can begin administering that over the coming weeks. Group 1C is our individuals who are 65 and older, who have medical conditions that make then susceptible to the COVID virus and other essential workers. Then we will move into more of the general population.”
The general population falls under Group 1D, which also includes adults who also have health issues. Those administrations could take place toward the end of February or early March, Shaw said.
Of course not everyone can just show up to a vaccination clinic and expect to get the shot. Those people in their respective groups will have to be registered and assigned a time slot. Shaw said Tuesday he and staff have contacted all of the county’s health care groups and organizations, giving their residents a chance at registration.
“You can’t just show up without an appointment,” Shaw said. “Our physicians are going through their patient rosters and we will be calling them over the next few weeks offering a time to get vaccinated,” Shaw said. “We have reached out to front line essential workers through their employers, who will get with their employees about being registered.
“You can be very proud of our community,” Shaw told the commission. “Our vaccination clinic that we stood up on Thursday and Friday of last week, we had assistants and volunteers from the school nurses in Hobbs, the school nurses in Lovington, the police department from Hobbs and Lovington, EMS services from both Lovington and Hobbs and the EDC of Lea County. We put together a drive-up and park vaccination clinic. We believe we can vaccinate up to 800 a day with that model. The only thing that is holding us back at this point is the allocation vaccine from the state. Currently that allocation is about 250 a week from Nor-Lea and a little over 100 a week for Lea Regional. We anticipate the allocation to increase in the upcoming weeks and we hope to vaccinate up to 1,600 people a week or more.”
Of course that is a ‘perfect world’ scenario when the distribution of the vaccine by the New Mexico National Guard is accurate. Sometimes that doesn’t happen. On Monday, Nor-Lea received only around 100 vaccinations, as opposed to the approximate 250 it was anticipating to receive.
Shaw added the system in which the vaccinations are being administered will help “flatten the COVID-19 curve” and get Lea County out of the red tiered system issued by the State of New Mexico.
“Because we are focusing on the older group (first) and we are focusing on those with underlying medical conditions and that is what is causing the issues in the health care system,” Shaw said. “I can see Lea County getting within the yellow status before May.
“This is all based on the idea that the majority of Lea County residents get the vaccination. Shaw admitted not everyone will get the vaccination, but all “will have the opportunity to do so.”
“At no other time have we developed a vaccine as quick as we have this time,” Shaw told the Hobbs Commission. “The important thing the public needs to know is there are three testing phases or trials that you have to go through and there were no shortcuts in those trials. There’s independent scientific groups and physicians that make recommendations to the FDA for approval, they are not associated with the government. All that process took place.”
Shaw said this is a new type of vaccine.
“This vaccine, it does not contain a virus, a live virus, dead virus or a weakened virus, what it actually contains is something called messenger RNA,” Shaw said. “This is a biological or chemical process that happens in our body everyday. This messenger RNA is part of the vaccine and it sends a message to ourselves to produce a protein and this protein is an exact duplicate of a spike protein that’s found on the virus. So when the cells begin to produce this protein the body recognizes that it is foreign and it produces antibodies. This messenger RNA only lasts for a very short period of time and that is why it requires a boost. It is a natural process. It is very safe.”
Hobbs acting city manager and fire chief Manny Gomez said following Shaw’s presentation he received the shot last week and the only symptom he felt was the soreness from receiving the shot. Shaw said during his presentation a small portion of people who were part of the vaccines drug trials showed minimal side effects.
“I want to share with you in the trials, there were 45,000 people in the trials,” Shaw said to the commission. “In the Pfizer vaccine, 3.8 percent of recipients experienced fatigue for a day. We call it a side effect, but it is a symptom of the immune system being activated. Two percent experienced a headache and less than 2 percent experienced a fever. So a very small number of side effects. (The Moderna vaccination) had a little bit different in results. About 9 percent experienced fatigue, 9 percent experienced muscle pain or joint pain, 4 percent experienced a headache and less than 2 percent experienced a fever. The important thing to remember, these are symptoms of your immune system reacting, which is what you want to see happen when you get a vaccine.”