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Coronavirus vaccinations open to more New Mexicans, Health Department says

The Santa Fe New Mexican - 3/22/2021

Mar. 20—The New Mexico Department of Health announced Friday it has opened the door to more categories of people who are eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

The agency also congratulated itself for having delivered more than a million doses of vaccine and for a No. 1 ranking in the nation for the percentage of its population that has received at least one dose.

"We've made extraordinary progress in a very short time," Dr. Tracie Collins, Cabinet secretary of the Department of Health, said in a news release. "And we intend to keep going."

New Mexico ranked No. 1 in the nation Friday in a vaccination tracking system operated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Wall Street Journal. Providers in the state have administered at least one coronavirus vaccine dose to 31.4 percent of the population. Alaska was second, with 29.6 percent of its residents at least partially vaccinated.

Under new eligibility guidelines New Mexico health officials announced Friday, the state's vaccine distribution program has been widened to include all "frontline essential workers," such as grocery store staff; family caregivers; child care workers; law enforcement officers; firefighters; agricultural employees; public transit workers; residents of congregate facilities, such as community homes and detention centers; all New Mexicans 60 and older; and all other essential workers, including restaurant staff, retail workers, animal care providers and those in the auto service industry.

Previously, shots were primarily limited to health care workers, nursing home residents and staff, people 75 and older, educators and New Mexicans with underlying health conditions. Those groups continue to be prioritized.

Santa Fe resident Bob Ortiz, a 67-year-old retiree, said he is scheduled for a shot next week and his family members have been vaccinated.

He said he remained concerned, however, about the comparatively low percentage of Hispanics in New Mexico who have been inoculated.

Ortiz said he wasn't criticizing the Department of Health for the statistics regarding Hispanics. "We're just asking why."

Ortiz added, "I think DOH is doing a good job. As we all know, because we've been around a while, some things happen unintentionally."

Department of Health statistics late Friday afternoon indicated 23.7 percent of Hispanics had received one shot, compared to 32.7 percent of whites. Only 18.5 percent of Black residents had gotten a shot, but 35.6 percent of Native Americans had received one, the statistics indicated.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said early this month the state has created a program in which it takes about 25 percent of the vaccine off the top of its available doses and applies that to communities with higher rates of the virus. The formula for the "vaccine equity program" includes data on income status, race, ZIP code and other factors.

Dr. Wendy Johnson, medical director of La Familia Medical Center, a publicly supported community health clinic in Santa Fe that serves many low-income people, said about 75 percent of its patients are Hispanic.

The clinic doesn't inquire about immigration status and serves uninsured people, she said.

Johnson cited possible reasons for a lower vaccination rate among Hispanics in the state: Some face language barriers, she said, and don't have access to technology required to registered for the vaccine, or they worry about revealing their immigration status to health care providers.

Department of Health spokesman David Morgan said the disparity in vaccine distribution among racial groups will narrow with the wider eligibility guidelines and acquisition of more vaccine doses.

Meanwhile, Anne and Frank Rivas, 68 and 74, respectively, had waited long enough. They drove to Amarillo, Texas, on Friday and received their first coronavirus shots at the civic center there.

Numerous Santa Fe residents say they have done this.

"We left at five in the morning," Anne Rivas said. "There was no line. We walked right in. We were in and out in about 20 minutes."

She said she and her husband are fortunate. Some people can't get off work, she said, some don't have the income to make a trip like that, and some generally have had little access to health care for years.

"This is kind of where income and privilege come in for us," she said. "Because we could make that drive."


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