AMARILLO, Texas — John and Barbara Mikkelsen, retirees who are each over 75 and have medical conditions that put them at high risk of COVID-19, registered to receive the vaccine on the day the state of New Mexico announced it would begin rolling out doses.
So did Greg, an investment manager in his mid-60s, who also has health conditions, and his wife, Marie, in her mid-70s.
Margarita, an interior designer in her early 70s, registered for a vaccination that day, along with Anne, a designer in her mid-40s, and Alan, an entrepreneur in his early 50s.
These Santa Feans were among many who signed up early, eager to get their two-dose coronavirus vaccinations. But as the weeks dragged on with no news from the state Department of Health about when their turn was coming, their anxiety ratcheted up.
They decided to join scores of New Mexicans who were heading across the state line for vaccination clinics in Amarillo, Texas, where providers were inoculating anyone who arrived. However, on Wednesday, the center ran out of vaccine by noon, forcing some Santa Feans to return home without a shot. It did not receive another shipment until Friday.
Those able to get their shots at the center in recent weeks lauded its efforts.
“Once we got there, they didn’t ask us where we were from,” John Mikkelsen said. “Because it didn’t seem to matter … they’ll give you a shot.”
“It was super easy,” agreed Margarita. Like most local people who spoke about their vaccination trek to Amarillo, she asked to be identified only by first name out of privacy concerns and fear of possible backlash.
“Everyone was very nice, very orderly, she said. “And they didn’t care at all that we were from New Mexico.”
The Santa Feans who received their first dose in Amarillo plan to go back for their booster shot. They were given a date as soon as they received their first injection.
The Mikkelsens said they learned about the mass vaccination events in Amarillo from their doctor and decided to give it a try after the state of Colorado canceled a vaccination appointment they had scheduled there in late January. Vaccines in that state were only for Colorado residents, the message said.
“We didn’t need to be waiting around for another two weeks or two months or who knows how long to get the vaccine,” John Mikkelsen said.
After the 4½-hour drive to Amarillo, he and other Santa Feans said the process was efficient. Margarita said it took about two hours for her to park and get her shot.
“It moved very quickly,” she said. “And there was a total mix of ages.”
Casie Stoughton, the public health director for the Amarillo Civic Center, told Austin TV station KXAN in early January the site is one of Texas’ best vaccination centers.
“We practice this every year when we do our city immunization” — from annual flu shot clinics to H1N1 vaccinations, back when that pandemic hit in 2009, she said.
Mikkelsen was critical of New Mexico’s vaccine rollout. He said the state “has dropped the ball” when it comes to ensuring residents at the top of the priority list — including those over 75, like him and his wife — have access to the vaccine.
“Although, you read about how many people have gotten vaccinated in Santa Fe,” he added.
More than 40,000 people in Santa Fe County — well more than a quarter of the population — had received at least their first shot as of Friday, according to data from the state Department of Health. Its vaccination rate is one of the highest in the state.
Providers in New Mexico had administered nearly 320,000 of its 324,575 available doses by Friday, including almost 77,700 booster shots. More than 40 percent of the people who have registered for a vaccination in the state have received their first dose, the data shows.
“But I don’t know,” Mikkelsen said. “Why hadn’t we gotten ours here?
“My philosophy about what they’re trying to do in Texas is they’re just trying to save lives. I congratulate them,” he said.
Anne said she made the trip to Amarillo because she figured she wouldn’t be eligible for inoculation until the summer in New Mexico, due to her age.
When she heard Texas had started vaccinating people under 75, she was more than ready.
“I found out about Amarillo at 10 o’clock on Monday night and we left the next morning at 7,” Anne said. “I now know about 100 people who’ve gone to Amarillo for the vaccine.”
She added, “One of the people who went with me is a cancer survivor and has other underlying conditions that put her at risk.”
Alan, the local businessman who was vaccinated in Amarillo, said, “I had an ethical issue when I first heard about it. But then, after talking it over with my doctor, I came to the realization: Why wouldn’t I do it? It’s a no-brainer.”
Still, he spoke only on the condition that his full name would not be published.
“New Mexico is being methodical and strict about the vaccine, and that’s not a bad thing,” Alan said.
But he wasn’t willing to wait until late spring or summer for his shots.
“My doctor is of the opinion that the more people who get it, no matter what their age or whether or not they have any health issues — stop fussing with categorization and get needles into people’s arms,” he said. “It’s better for the country as a whole. It helps get us to herd immunity.”
Anne had similar thoughts. “After talking it over with other people — are we preventing other people who’re more vulnerable? ... I felt strongly that we weren’t taking the vaccine away from other people.”
“I didn’t feel I’d be taking away the shot from someone more worthy,” Margarita said. “I know people who’ve gamed the system. ... I feel better doing it this way than trying to jump the line the way other people have done here in town.”