New Mexicans over the age of 75 eager to receive the coronavirus vaccine got some good news Friday when the state Department of Health released updated guidelines on who will be next in line.
Teachers, grocery store workers and public transit employees, among others, will also benefit from the expanded vaccination plan.
In the next phase of the rollout, people over 75, residents over 16 who are at greater risk of COVID-19 complications and front-line essential workers who cannot work from home will be eligible to receive the vaccine.
The state Department of Health “is pleased to release New Mexico’s vaccination plan, and to provide the clarity that New Mexicans seek about this critical effort,” Dr. Tracie Collins, secretary-designate of the department, said in a statement Friday.
New Mexicans eager to get the vaccine have been equally eager to find out when and where they can get it.
Since the vaccine arrived in New Mexico in mid-December, it has been available only to front-line health care workers and people living and working in congregate care facilities.
The next phase is scheduled to last into the spring. After that, people over the age of 60 and other essential workers — including members of the media, veterinarians and those working in public utility functions — will be included.
The last phase, scheduled for sometime in the summer, will cover all members of the general public.
The state has set up a registration website for the vaccine — vaccinenm.org — and a call center — 1-855-600-3453 — to help people register who do not have computer access.
Once people register online, they can “log in and see a full list of locations in their area” of where they can get vaccinated, Matt Bieber, a spokesman for the Health Department, said in an email Friday.
The phased timeline depends heavily on how quickly New Mexico can get new doses of the vaccine, which requires a booster shot three to four weeks after the initial inoculation, depending on which brand you get.
As of Thursday, New Mexico had received 133,125 doses of the vaccine, and more than 48,300 people had received a dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meanwhile, local health care officials said they continue to administer vaccines from drug companies Pfizer and Moderna to eligible employees.
For the most part, employees are signing up to receive the shot, with few turning down the opportunity, they said.
“Our workforce has been anxious to get in line and get it,” said Jon Wade, CEO of Presbyterian Healthcare Services in Santa Fe.
He has not heard of any of his employees declining the shot, but said employee privacy laws prevent officials from knowing those details.
Presbyterian had given nearly 500 shots to its employees as of Friday, he said.
At Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, nearly 70 percent of its 2,300 workers have been vaccinated, said Lillian Montoya, Christus St. Vincent’s CEO and president. Many have already received the second round of shots.
She said vaccinations are not mandatory for employees but are “highly encouraged.” Still, some have decided not to get it, she said.
But some who were reluctant are a little more open to getting it now, she said. That might be because they wanted to see how their fellow workers responded to the vaccine.
“We’re finding a month into it that some who held back are getting on the schedule because they see their colleagues are doing fine after the first month of the vaccine,” she said.
Montoya said Christus St. Vincent has the refrigerator storage capacity to handle large doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be kept at an ultracold temperature. Once the vaccine thaws, it must be administered within six hours.
Montoya said Christus St. Vincent occasionally has extra doses that are given to patients and others over age 75.
Wade said Presbyterian has had no “wastage” of the vaccine and rarely has extra doses.
Mark Rudi, spokesman for University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, said in an email that the hospital had administered 10,000 shots to employees as of Tuesday.
“Because we are scheduling vaccinations, we only utilize a corresponding amount of the vaccine to the number of appointments made for that day,” he said in response to a question about extra doses.
Like Christus St. Vincent, UNM Hospital is not requiring employees to get the vaccine.
“Just as we expect members of the public may elect to not receive the vaccine, we anticipate some members of the workforce may also choose not to be vaccinated,” Rudi said. “This may be for health, religious or other [personnel] protected reasons.”