Home COVID-19 DOH expands vaccine availability to everyone over 16 today

DOH expands vaccine availability to everyone over 16 today

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Starting today, every New Mexican over the age of 16 who wants to, may sign up to receive the vaccine against the novel coronavirus under a plan announced last week by the state Department of Health.

Dr. Tracie Collins, DOH cabinet secretary, said the order stems from a directive issued by President Joe Biden in keeping with his drive to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible to stem the spread of the ongoing pandemic.

“President Biden directed states to make all adults eligible for vaccine by May 1,” Collins was quoted in the release. “New Mexico will meet that mark nearly a month early.”

Almost two weeks ago, Texas announced vaccinations would be available to anyone in the state over the age of 16 who wanted to receive it.

New Mexico will continue to give priority to individuals in the first phases of the vaccine program, which includes essential workers, those 75 or older and people 60 and older who have chronic conditions, which could make them more vulnerable to the respiratory disease COVID-19, or make the effects more serious. David Shaw, CEO of Nor-Lea Hospital District in Lovington, said the expansion of the state’s vaccine program was “long overdue.”

“Hopefully, this will open it up to more people and increase the number of people in the county vaccinated,” Shaw said. “The more we get vaccinated, the closer we get to immunity and the end of the pandemic.”

Jennifer Pyeatt, pharmacy director for Covenant Health Hobbs Hospital, agreed.

“For our county, I think that’s wonderful,” she said. “For herd immunity, we have to vaccinate everybody who’ll get the vaccine. Opening up (eligibility) provides protection to everybody in our county.”

Herd immunity is the point in the course of a disease pandemic where enough people are immune, either by vaccination or by having recovered from the disease, to slow the spread. Exactly where that point is with the novel coronavirus, though, remains in question.

Shaw said scientists studying the pandemic set a low number of 40 percent of the population to a high of 80 percent to achieve herd immunity. As of Wednesday, about 30 percent of the population of Lea County have either recovered or been immunized against COVID-19, but he’d like to see that number closer to the 50-60 percent range or greater.

“And the variants are throwing a monkey wrench into what herd immunity looks like,” Pyeatt said. “The more infectious viruses change what herd immunity means.

“We’re seeing a slight uptick in U.S. cases of COVID,” she said. “If we start to see a lot of uptick, the concern is the variants are taking hold. That’s why it’s difficult to gauge what herd immunity will look like.”

Pyeatt and Shaw both noted recent declines in the number of Lea County residents seeking the vaccine during regular clinics offered in recent weeks. Both Nor-Lea and Covenant Health Hobbs were “extremely aggressive” getting vaccines into arms as soon as they became available in December, Pyeatt said. Advanced planning helped providers in the county “hit the ground running.

“Now, our numbers (of people being vaccinated each week) are getting lower,” she said. “We’re not vaccinating nearly as many people (in the Phase I target groups) because we’ve already vaccinated most of the people in those groups already.”

There are still reports of some parts of the country having trouble getting the vaccines, but that’s not the case in New Mexico and Lea County, Shaw said. Local providers have been ordering vaccine for weekly clinics to meet the demand, which has been “tapering off,” he said.

A vaccination clinic hosted by Nor-Lea on Wednesday, for example, had 200 appointments that weren’t filled, Shaw said. He hopes the expansion of eligibility will mean a reversal of that trend.

“I hope with opening the criteria, we will see an increase in demand,” he said. “There’s enough vaccine on the market right now that I can meet that demand.

“I think there’s plenty of supply out there,” Shaw said. “We just need people to sign up and get vaccinated.”

Later last week, a second release from NMDOH announced a change in the way people can register for the vaccine via a state website, vaccineNM.org. According to the release, anyone who’s received their first dose of one of the two-dose vaccines can now log on to schedule their second dose, regardless of whether their first dose was scheduled via that website.

Neither Nor-Lea or Covenant Hobbs relies on the state website to schedule local vaccine appointments. Covenant offers the vaccine on a “first come, first served” basis, Pyeatt said. It’s clinics are typically announced via social media.

Nor-Lea has its own registration website, accessible via a “schedule COVID19 vaccine here” button on its main website, nor-lea.org, Shaw said. Registration is also available by phone at 575-391-9091.

“The news (Wednesday) the state is opening vaccines up to people 16 and older will give some reassurance to people who are eligible,” Shaw said. “We hope in the next couple of weeks to see an upticks in vaccines.”

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