The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic appears to be cycling down in Lea County — again.
That was the word from Nor-Lea Hospital District CEO/Administrator David Shaw during an online update broadcast on social media Friday morning. While the daily case count in Lea County has declined slightly to about 40 per 100,000 residents, positivity rate still remains relatively high at 11 percent, Shaw said.
“But we’re seeing the numbers come down in the last few days,” he said. “Hopefully, we’re on the backside of this curve.”
Shaw also said booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech designed to lessen the severity of infections are now available through Nor-Lea and at several other locations around the county. And there’s a broad range of individuals who qualify to receive a booster, he said.
The initial vaccines, available around the world since December 2020, is a two-shot regimen, administered two weeks apart. Studies over the intervening months have shown a third inoculation helps boost the effectiveness of the vaccine, increasing protection.
But the talk around third shots “gets confusing,” Shaw said, with different classifications depending on the individuals receiving the shots.
“We talk about a third shot, a booster shot, or an additional shot,” he said. “There are some subtle differences.”
Booster shots are to be administered six to eight months after completion of the regular two-shot regime, he said, and are currently available only for those who received the Pfizer version who also meet broad criteria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New Mexico Department of Health strongly recommend individuals age 65 and older, those living in congregate or long-term care facilities and those age 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions seek out a booster, Shaw said.
A second group, when NMDOH calls the “may” group, includes individual 18-49 years old with underlying health conditions and people aged 18 to 64 who work in “high-risk occupational and institutional settings.”
High risk occupations include, but are not limited to: first responders, including healthcare workers, firefighters, police and people who work in long-term care or congregate living facilities; teachers, support staff in the schools and daycare workers; food, agriculture and manufacturing workers, and people who work in grocery stores.
Booster recommendations are based on several studies, reviewed by the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, showing the amount of antibodies the vaccines trigger the body to produce decline after six to eight months, particularly in older adults and it people with underlying health conditions, Shaw said. That doesn’t mean the benefit of the vaccines disappear all together, he said.
“What we’re seeing at Nor-Lea are individuals who had breakthrough cases are still having great protection with the vaccines,” Shaw said, “with fewer hospital visits, fewer emergency room visits, and they’re continuing to recover very quickly.
“But case counts continue to be high (in Lea County). The more people who get vaccinated and have a higher level of protection from hospitalization or ER visits, the fewer problems or challenges we’ll have at our hospitals here in Lea County.”
Nor-Lea Health Clinics in both Hobbs and Lovington have COVID-19 vaccines available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, Shaw said. To register, call the clinic at 575-396-6611 and ask to speak to the immunization pod to request a booster.
Alternately, individuals may go to the Nor-Lea website,via the “Schedule COVID-19 Vaccine Here” button on the home page.
Covenant Health Hobbs Hospital is also hosting a drive-thru vaccination clinic from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at the hospital on North Lovington Highway in Hobbs. Vaccines are also available at pharmacies across the communities and people are advised to call to check availability.
And, as flu season is getting underway, it’s time for people to schedule those vaccinations as well, Shaw told the News-Sun following the update briefing. There are no recommendations about separating a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine from the CDC, he said.
“You can get the shots at the same time, if you can find a clinic that’s doing both,” he said. “We’ve done that in our Lovington Clinic. And we’re already starting to see cases of flu. We’re anticipating a bad flu season this year.
“Personally, I got my COVID-19 booster today (Friday). I’m probably going to wait a couple of weeks and get my flu shot, just because I don’t want to have two sore arms.”