Families whose kids want to showcase the livestock they’ve spent months raising might have to drive farther, much farther in some cases.
New Mexico State Fair organizers have canceled the youth livestock show in the face of surging COVID-19 cases.
The outbreak had led the governor to amend the public health order in August to require anyone 12 or older to be fully vaccinated to attend the fair. The stricter policy combined with the spike in cases made it difficult to hold the event and for families to participate, fair officials said in a statement.
The good news is kids still can compete and show off their hard work at an alternative show in Roswell this week.
Some families must travel farther and deal with more logistical challenges in transporting animals a greater distance.
But few seem to be complaining.
“An extra hour drive and some extra money [spent] for us is worth it,” said Kayla Kersey, a Magdalena resident whose two children will participate. “It’s no easy feat to put together a show like that. I’m really grateful that some people stepped up and are willing to do it.”
Because the Roswell expo is a privately sponsored event, attendees don’t have to be vaccinated.
Kersey said her son JD has two pigs, and her daughter Abby, 11, has one after selling her other pig recently at a local fair.
JD turned 12 in April, making him eligible for the shots, Kersey said. But they have held off on getting him immunized as they wait for more research to come out about how the vaccine affects children, she said.
“We just haven’t been in a hurry to get him vaccinated,” Kersey said. “I’m not against it. I just wanted to give it more time.”
Vaccines became available to children 12 to 15 years of age in late May.
But like Kersey, many parents were hesitant to inoculate their children. Some told state fair officials that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s order provided them too little time to vaccinate their children before the livestock show, given the three to four weeks required between shots and the two weeks after the second dose.
Vaccine mandates are a contentious issue that seems certain to intensify after President Joe Biden on Thursday announced sweeping mandates that would affect an estimated 100 million Americans, including federal employees, employers with 100 or more workers and medical facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid.
Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and other medical experts show that vaccinated people are far less likely to develop acute COVID-19 symptoms and transmit the disease.
Still, many people argue that vaccination should be a personal medical decision.
In an email, a spokesman in the Governor’s Office wrote that eligible people not getting vaccinated are making a choice that comes with consequences.
“The cancellation of the event is unfortunate,” wrote Tripp Stelnicki. “When individuals choose not to get vaccinated against a deadly virus amid a worsening pandemic that is straining hospitals and health care resources as well as the safety of schools around the state, unfortunate cancellations do happen.”
Unvaccinated residents can change their circumstances and protect their state by scheduling an appointment at VaccineNM.org, Stelnicki added.
A state fair spokesman said canceling the kids’ livestock show was a tough decision, but in their view, it was necessary after talking to parents, 4-H organizers and medical experts.
“Of course, we’re so sad not to see the kids this year,” said spokesman Wyndham Kemsley. “We’re happy they have a place to show. And we look forward to welcoming everyone back in 2022.”
Talisha Valdez of Clayton said she and her husband have chosen not to vaccinate themselves or their two children, who will take part in the Roswell show.
Valdez said the drive to Roswell is about a two hours longer than to Albuquerque, but they are glad there is a show that their daughters can compete in.
“It is farther, but we’re going to make sure we attend,” she said. “People have worked hard to put that together for our kids.”
Her daughter Raley, 11, has sheep, and daughter Riata, 12, is going to display pigs, Valdez added.
It’s possible this show will have a larger crowd because the vaccine mandate might have thinned attendance at the state fair, Valdez said.
And while she enjoys the fair’s atmosphere and array of activities, the main goal is getting the kids’ animals in front of a judge and potential buyers, Valdez said.
State Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, said he pushed for an alternative youth show in his city after the governor issued the vaccine mandate — which he vehemently opposes — and was happy to see it materialize last month.
“I saw the writing on the wall that the state [fair] was more than likely going to cancel it,” Pirtle said.
Pirtle said the Roswell event could have larger attendance, drawing Southern New Mexico residents who would be unable to travel all the way to Albuquerque.
And for those who must make a longer trek from the north, he said, what they give up in convenience, they gain in safety.
“You’re more likely to have your car broken into in Albuquerque than Roswell,” Pirtle said.
Kersey said after the new vaccine rule was imposed, she might’ve opted out of the fair’s youth show, if it wasn’t canceled, because the mandate would’ve reduced participation.
You want to compete against the best, she said, noting that a better selection of livestock attracts more buyers willing to pay higher prices.
One thing that’s easier about Albuquerque is she has a friend who lets them stay at her place. For the Roswell show, they’ll have to take two vehicles — one to haul a camper and another to pull a trailer with the animals, she said.
“It’s definitely more of a pain for us, but it’s worth it,” Kersey said.