The state Department of Health announced last week many people 60 and older would get higher priority for the coronavirus vaccine, but that didn’t help Anne and Frank Rivas.

The state’s decision applied to people with underlying health problems, and the Rivases don’t have any.

“We’ve taken precautions and stayed home,” said Anne Rivas, 68. “Are we not high risk anymore?”

From the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, health officials described older Americans as especially vulnerable to a severe case of COVID-19, the disease the virus causes. New Mexico’s vaccine distribution program now prioritizes people 75 and older, along with those 60 and older with certain medical conditions. Health care professionals, nursing home staff and residents, and teachers are also high on the list.

Other people over 60, who also feel vulnerable to the virus, say they’ve registered for vaccinations on the state’s website and are still waiting for a call. They’ve heard little from the Department of Health, other than a caution against going to a vaccination clinic without an invitation, and have expressed bewilderment over the distribution process.

They wonder if they have been passed over.

The Health Department indicated the challenge isn’t hard to explain.

“The greatest problem is supply and demand,” said spokesman David Morgan.

Doses from the federal government continue to rise, he said, “but the fact of the matter is right now we have more people wishing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 than we have vaccine available.”

‘It’s a lottery at some point’

New Mexico statistics sparkle compared to those of other states. The state is at the top of the nation in getting coronavirus vaccinations to residents. But one common complaint in Santa Fe is that seniors don’t know where they sit on the list or even vaguely when they might be invited by the state to get their shots.

“It’s just inexplicable to me why this is happening,” said Matthew Geyer, 67, of Santa Fe. Geyer received both of his shots — in Amarillo, Texas.

“The bigger problem to me is the lack of communication, the lack of any coherent messaging,” said Geyer, who has no underlying health problems. “The messaging in a thing like this is very important because people don’t know what to do.”

In many ways, New Mexico has performed exceptionally well in getting vaccinations to residents. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Wall Street Journal reported Friday that New Mexico was leading the nation in people who had gotten at least one dose of vaccine, closely followed by Connecticut. New Mexico was second to Alaska in people who are fully vaccinated.

New Mexico data on Friday showed 27.7 percent of residents had received at least one shot, while 15.9 percent were fully vaccinated.

The data shows the oldest residents are receiving shots more quickly than others: 63.1 percent of New Mexicans 75 and older have received at least one shot, compared with 36.9 percent of people 60 to 74.

Dr. Wendy Johnson, medical director of La Familia Medical Center in Santa Fe, said she believes the state Health Department has done well so far.

“I’m so proud of our state,” she said. “I’m super proud of our governor.”

La Familia is a community health center that sees about 16,000 patients a year, many with low income

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said the state’s online registry system enables the Health Department to keep priority populations where they should be on the list.

But more than 700,000 New Mexicans have registered to receive the vaccine. That compares with over 807,000 doses the state has received so far, most of them vaccines that require two shots for full inoculation.

As of Friday, providers had administered more than 745,000 shots. Another 217,520 doses are being distributed here by federal agencies.

Until a recent increase in the vaccine supply the federal government was shipping to states, providers were rolling out doses almost as quickly as they were arriving in New Mexico.

Still, many seniors who believe they should be eligible for a shot say they hustled to sign onto the state’s registry, only to wait — and continue waiting.

Louise Lasley, 74, recently received a notice from the Health Department on her phone. She hoped it was her turn for the first shot.

“And no, that wasn’t the case at all,” she said. It was a message telling her not to go to a coronavirus vaccination clinic without an appointment.

Lasley said she has heart disease and high blood pressure, both of which qualify as underlying conditions that place her at greater risk of severe illness.

“It’s a lottery at some point,” she said of getting the shots. “There are just so many unknowns.”

On Saturday, however, Lasley said it appeared the Health Department had improved its coronavirus vaccine website since she last visited the site, which allayed some of her concerns.

Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, D.C., said Friday that with demand far exceeding supply, “states are having to make decisions about prioritizing certain groups. Honestly, there are no good answers.”

For now, she said, there will be winners and losers.



Ethnic disparities emerge

The state Department of Health announced early this month it was rolling out a new vaccine equity plan to ensure it was reaching at-risk populations.

“We looked at the data, and we decided we could do two things better,” Lujan Grisham said in a news conference. “One, we can get much more granular at the ZIP code level to really make sure that we’re reaching high-risk minorities.

“And two,” she said, “we’re actually going to use census data as we go granular so that we have a vulnerability index factor that looks at everything from socioeconomic status to your minority or racial status and household circumstances.”

Lujan Grisham said about 25 percent of vaccine doses would be dedicated to communities most at risk for higher mortality rates and COVID-19 complications.

A day later, the city of Santa Fe said in a newsletter its leadership also was worried about vaccine distribution to Hispanic and Black residents because the vaccination rates for those groups were lower than for whites.

Mayor Alan Webber also said in the newsletter that Santa Fe ZIP codes 87505 and 87507, where caseloads have been highest, needed more outreach concerning vaccinations.

Kyra Ochoa, acting director of the city’s Community Health and Safety Department, said the two ZIP codes have higher populations of immigrants and low-income families than other areas. Residents in those ZIP codes also were receiving shots at much lower rates than areas with wealthier neighborhoods.

Ochoa said the city, which is not responsible for vaccinations, seeks to inform Hispanics and others of the importance of the vaccinations through various events, tote bags, phone banking, social media and in other ways, with some messaging in Spanish.

Statewide, 31.3 percent of Native Americans and 27.4 percent of whites have been at least partially vaccinated, according to Health Department data. That compares to only 19.4 percent of the Hispanic population and 14.7 percent of Black residents.

The disparities are wider Santa Fe County. Only 14 percent of Native Americans, 16 percent of Hispanics and 19 percent of Blacks are at least partially vaccinated — compared with 38 percent of whites.

‘Communication is poor’

Teachers and other educators recently won prioritization for the vaccinations in a state and federal effort to get schools fully reopened.

Loretta Medina, 49, said she fears that when new groups are prioritized, others fall further down the list.

“I haven’t been called yet,” said Medina, who has high blood pressure and other health problems. “I don’t think that’s fair.”

Pam Nation, 69, who has diabetes and high blood pressure, said: “God, I’d like to get the vaccination. I’m tired of staying home.”

Nation said she knows neighbors who have been summoned to vaccination clinics and told to arrive quickly, evidently because of the vaccine’s short shelf life.

“I hear about some sort of computer program or something that somehow randomizes things,” Nation said. “But the communication is poor.”

Barbara Frick, who said she is in her upper 60s, said she recently received a call from Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center to come and get her shot.

She said she continues to receive various COVID-19 messages from the Health Department, which makes her wonder about the coordination between the state and its partner clinics.

Frick said she considered herself fortunate to get vaccinated. “And I think it’s been very, very frustrating for the seniors in this town … especially those with underlying conditions.”

She declined to say if she had any such conditions.

Morgan said the state’s partner medical providers contact the department about vaccine availability, “and together we coordinate notifying eligible registrants in that area” who can “make it to the vaccination location in a timely manner.”

He said those who have received vaccinations may continue to receive messages, including about post-vaccination practices.

Christus St. Vincent spokesman Arturo Delgado said vaccines left available from patients who didn’t show up go to others who can make it to the hospital within 15 minutes. These are prioritized by age, he said, and based on the state’s guidance, the hospital also reaches out to teachers off lists provided by school administrators.

Both Christus St. Vincent and Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center said they have wasted no vaccine doses.

Morgan said 24 entities provide vaccines in Santa Fe and close to 300 administer it statewide.

Geyer, meanwhile, said he wiped away a major concern by going out of state. He is one of possibly hundreds of Santa Feans who have traveled to Amarillo for shots.

It’s possible Texas has vaccine doses for outsiders because Texans themselves are responding modestly to the demand to get the shot, he said.

Geyer said he drove to Amarillo’s civic center twice and had no problem with long waits or bureaucratic tangles.

“They don’t care how old you are, and they don’t care where you’re from.”

(47) comments

Bob Res

So here’s a simple question......if the efficacy of the first shot is 87%, and the second shot only ups it to 95%, why aren’t ALL states rushing to get one shot into everybody first?

Christina Gill

Seniors are not being prioritized period. We have an extremely unhealthy population due to type 2 diabetes which is largely preventable those people are being prioritized over senior citizens. There are also numerous people who have jumped the line by knowing using someone, or before the state fixed it giving their code to people who were not eligible. Maybe someday integrity will return to our culture, but don't count on it anytime soon.

DANIEL GOWE

Let me know when the protest march in front of the Round House is going to take place. You know, the march for all the phase 1C Seniors in NM that are not able to get a vaccine shot! I’ll get my poster painted up...

Gus Walbolt

Most of my neighbors 60+ have driven to Amarillo, TX and have had a pleasant, efficient experience. My wife got her vaccine here in town. The NMDOH sent me to Edgewood, NM for my shot a hour away. Not complaining, just facts.

Jason Yurtail

Today at work a 35 year old and a 50 year old both get notices that they are eligible to sign up for vaccination, neither one has an condition. On Friday, a friend sends a text that he has "talked to the folks at Marketplace in DeVargas" and they said "we have extra vaccine right now, fill this out and we'll give you your first shot". All I get is DOH notices to wait my turn and let them know if I've received my vaccine in another state. Although I criticized people 6 weeks ago for going to Amarillo, stupid me, I get it now. There is no real prioritization in NM and no communication either...so frustrating. Will we ever have good governance in this state??

Lee DiFiore

Pretty much everything said by the government of NM (all of them) concerning the vaccine is a lie.

Staff
Rick Ruggles

Let's talk about this.--Rick Ruggles, rruggles@sfnewmexican.com

Mark Ortiz

I see commentators both satisfied and unsatisfied. I'll give you my experience but 1st this. As always on que, Mayor Webber the consummate PR smoe, "... Santa Fe ZIP codes 87505 and 87507, where caseloads have been highest, needed more outreach concerning vaccinations." Yes Mayor, that's the ticket, more outreach, not more distribution is the REAL problem, but you do you.

So, my folks are 85 and 78 with some underlying conditions. After perusing all and any means, they will be receiving their 2nd one Friday. I resorted to this after hearing about neighbors of the same age, who have a daughter who is a nurse in Albq, somehow acquired the vaccine for them and their grandchildren about 6 weeks ago. Also, a family acquaintance , maybe 60-65 years old, who is in our same parish, is married to a staffer for a NM State Senator, so they received the vaccine some time ago. I'll applaud the initial registration process but in my opinion , status and distribution has been a real real let down.

John Tallent

We went to Amarillo for the day to get our vaccines. Breezed right in and out again. Went to Lowes and fuddruckers then home again. No real side effects. JT

DeeDee Downs

Actually, the roll out in NM has been excellent comparatively. The problems are the long long time we had to wait for doses to arrive in state, thanks to the orange menace, but one thing NM really needs to do better is communicating what's actually going on. Now they've switched from age and co-morbidity as qualifiers, to zip code and job description. No one would have complained if this had been thoughtfully laid out and explained. The issue comes down to expectations. First the NMDOH said how they were going to run things. Then they changed everything and didn't let us know!! So easy to just flipping tell the people the truth! That way we can all adjust our expectations and we won't be so angry. Truth. It's pretty cool and powerful.

Bob Res

Seriously.....get off of the Trump bs. President Biden has been in office since 1/20. Newsflash.....that’s two months ago.

DANIEL GOWE

Nothing for me yet. I'm in the 65 and over crowd with no underlying conditions. In New Mexico, were so far behind the 65 and over curve that people are forced to "fend for themselves" and "scatter to the wind" out of state (Texas or Colorado) where you can get a fix at any drive up window! I'll hang out in the bunker for a little while longer to see which way this thing goes. If I get in a pinch, I'll head for the border! My wife has received both of her vaccine shots here in Santa Fe, as she was in the 75 and older group. Now that doesn't she can be free to go out and mingle with a crowd. I sit at home with no vaccine shot. She presents a clear and present danger to me by risking bring home the virus and unintentionally spreading it to me. So her ability go out and mingle situation has not changed.

Lee DiFiore

Depends on who you believe to determine if NM is doing a good job with the vaccine. On the one hand you have many, many seniors with health issues waiting and wondering when they will get the shot along with large numbers of the population who have gone to other states to get their shots. On the other hand you have the governor and her staff who are beholden to the governor in front of the media every day telling you what a wonderful job they are doing. My money is on the seniors with rolled up sleeves waiting for grishy to make this thing right.

Margaret Eyler

So once again I ask you: “Do you trust the government?” Then stop voting to give it more power. Layers of bureaucracy in NM, laissez faire in TX.

Mike Johnson

Agreed. And given what has happened over the last year, how can any intelligent person trust any government????

tai garden

I am really tired of people whining that they did not get their vaccine yet. I am in my mid 60s with an underlying condition. I think the state is doing a great job. There are only so many vaccines to go around. Teachers were just bumped into the highest priority group, so we all get moved down. No problem. Just keep wearing a mask and social distancing. If you've done it for 12 months, you can do it for 13. I get the texts from DOH, and I read them. I go to their website and read the distribution plan. I don't see anything that indicates that I should have received my vaccine already. Get over your feeling of entitlement and recognize that other people might need it more than you do. A high percentages of New Mexicans are elderly. A high percentage of New Mexicans have *serious* underlying conditions. A high percentage of New Mexicans are in health-related fields (6th largest occupational group in the state). Just wait your turn, and don't expect someone to text you every week and hold your hand during the process.

Angel Ortiz

[thumbup]

Elizabeth Garside

I am not going to question the actual distribution work the DOH is doing. I AM going to question why they do not have someone with risk-communication experience working on their messaging. When people feel anxious and out of control, they need MORE communication, not less. You have all the email addresses for registrants — use them! Even if you are just reporting number of vaccine doses received by the state versus number of people in the line, you are providing context that will make the waiting less stressful. And you are empowering people to go to Colorado and Texas if they have that context and still feel too anxious. Communication is a huge piece of the DOH role, and a basic website does not cut it.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]Well said, and it shows the NMDOH to be incompetent in even the simplest communications to citizens. They refuse to explain how this system works, how the Hunger Games/Lottery functions, or anything else about it. As a result, NM has about 1/2 the % of those over 65 vaccinated compared to the average US state, why are younger people being prioritized when the CDC advised early on, 65+ should be prioritized. Not in NM, as one NMDOH bureaucrat said in a press conference when questioned about 65+, "We have our own rules we follow....."

Alexander Brown

Amarillo 2X. Fast, friendly, efficient, anytime, everybody in appropriate categories.

16 hrs driving vs NM DOH ?

Done, like far too many others have had to. Action better than frustration and resentment. Does not reflect well on NM DOH.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]

Chris Mechels

Giving "everyone" a high priority, on political whims, just creates confusion. The only listed DOH contact point is a messaging service, and you could die waiting for an answer. Surely, with an adequate data base service, this should not be a problem??

Lets all call Tracie Collins and share our concerns, to inspire better performance.

Better to spend the time going to Texas...

But of course, she doesn't answer the phone either.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]

Betsy Brandt

I wrote many times to the governor and DOH on behalf of my nearly 93 year old mom. No response from governor. Only "wait your turn" from DOH. I was so desperate to get her vaccinated that I cheated for her and accepted a shared event code. As of Wed. she is fully vaccinated. But not because of the DOH website working "equitably." Why doesn't the DOH show mercy on seniors? Why don't they have a special code they can provide for folks who are on their system, have been left out, and are more than qualified?

My three sisters and I traveled to Amarillo and got vaccinated the same weeks our mom got hers. We met their criteria and were happy to wait in line, first come, first serve. Being our mom's only caretakers we felt it urgent not to continue to unnecessarily expose her. Amarillo has a kinder, gentler system. Who knows when we would get contacted? May sometime? Constantly checking my texts hourly and e-mails for a DOH invite was totally nerve racking and making us three sisters crazy!

We all know that the NM vaccine website is "leaky" and many times folks get vaccinated who shouldn't. So why not help seniors out directly DOH? Why depend on a random system? Lives depend on it. Please help at risk seniors like this article highlights. Thank you Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper for not giving up of them.

Jason Yurtail

I did the math on the DOH dashboard site, again. On the second to last panel of the dashboard are the numbers of people in each of three groups. How many shots were giving to each group? Answer: the math says: 384K vaccines have been delivered to 16-59; 215K have been delivered to 64-74; 161K have been delivered to 75+. The article just quotes percentages which is very misleading. More than 50% - 384K - of the shots have gone to 16-59. That is not a number that indicates that seniors are being prioritized. Together with the lack of communication, we should not conclude that this state has "best in the nation" status. Far from it, it looks like another secret plan from a NM governor. IMO, she's getting to be as bad as old Susana Martinez

John Cook

I don't understand how you are doing the math. Here is the chart from the DOH dashboard:

Vaccine Administered Per Age Group (New Mexico State Data)

Age Group Population Total Percent With At Least One Shot Percent Fully Vaccinated

16-59 1,166,185 20.7% 12.2%

60-74 360,831 39.2% 20.4%

75+ years 153,589 64.0% 40.9%

DL Arment

You have to do a little math.

Multiply the population of the group by the percentage with at least one shot.

Take the total people with at least one shot, 481,112.

Calculate the percentage of THAT each group has received, and you get:

16-59 241,400 50.2%

60-74 141,446 29.4%

75+ 98,267 20.4%

Those new percentages are the share of the shots given by age.

John Cook

That chart didn't copy and print very well.

Total population in 16-59 age group, 1,116,185. % with 1 shot 20.7%, 2 shots 12.2%

60-74, total population 360,831. % with 1 shot 39.2%. % with 2 shots 20.4%

75+ total population 153,589. % with 1 shot 64%. Two shots 40.9%

The percentages show the prioritization of the vaccine. In the 16-59 age group you have first responders, nurses, people with pre-existing, etc. But the State is prioritizing seniors.

DL Arment

John, you miss the point. The original percentages, and my calculation show what percentage of the total shots given were given to each age group. The original point, that over 50% of the shots in New Mexico have been given to the youngest age group is correct.

Mike Johnson

Well said DL Arment....[thumbup]

Angel Ortiz

[thumbup]

John Grieco

John,

I agree with you and here's another point that I've looked into - the amount of Vaccines RECEIVED vs. the AMOUNT GIVEN. Short about 75,000 VACCINES. Where are they? If administered to who? I wrote a letter to Gov. Grisholm and was polite and courteous. It was on the Shortage and the Exodus to other States for the Vaccine. I got no reply. If I was her I'd be ASHAMED.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]

Amy Earle

On the plus side DOH handles the entire process. They contact you, they give you a date, place and now time for vaccination. There is no jockeying to find an appointment like some states. Once you have the 1st shot they immediately mark in your profile you’ve had it, and give you a new appointment for shot 2. We vaccinate a lot of people which is a good thing. The mystery is how they prioritize who to contact and when. NM is not an overly healthy state. Last I read there were over 500,000 people of all ages who have some sort of condition. None of that includes age. It’s a daunting task. The DOH should be more transparent; however, about the process so various groups have a much clearer idea when they might be contacted. I feel blessed that I was contacted but why me and not someone else I don’t know. None of us know really and that’s the problem. Biden has promised that in May there should be enough vaccine for anyone in any circumstance to be vaccinated. That should iron out this problem. Our next issue is going to be the reality that only 59% of people in SF anyway have registered. The DOH site has eliminated registration rates by county but prior to that it was quite low in some parts of the state. Once we are able to get everyone vaccinated who wants to be we are going to have a lot of work ahead convincing those who are not willing right now to be vaccinated. There’s much to do still.

Jason Yurtail

Amy, you've expressed my frustration far better than I do. The virus problem will be with us for a while, perhaps years with variants. Let's really demand that our governor and her cabinet truly share how prioritization is happening, whether the system is "leaky" and allowing people to cut the line and then really communicate (regularly) about where we are on all aspects of progress, not just percentage of vaccines used. Thanks for your post!

Mike Johnson

Agreed, but I think the Guv plans to have us locked down this time next year too, and beyond, as the COVID will be an annual panic, with the lockdowns, shots, etc. continuing, just wait, like all politicians, she loves power (especially the absolute power she currently has, unchallenged by anyone) and will not surrender it easily.

John Grieco

Jason and Amy - KUDDOS.

I'd like to know where the 75,000+ vaccines that have been received but not administered are.

Isabelle Sandoval

Be fair. Zip codes. Ages. Medical Conditions. Race/ethnicity. Be fair.

Allen Olson

Line jumping is also a problem. Some clinics appear to be giving shots to people who are not currently in NMDOH priority categories. They are making their own judgments as to who needs a shot. This pushes other registered people further down the line. The state either needs to enforce the priorities or open vaccinations to all on a first come, first serve basis. Receiving a vaccination should not be based on who you know. Allen Olson, Cerrillos

Eugene Murski

I am over 75 and if I had not taken my own action, I would still be waiting. Go to Texas or Colorado.

Rebecca Clay

Don't forget Colorado -- we made an appointment in Alamosa through the Kroger website last week and drove up the next day for our first shot. In our early 60s with no underlying conditions. Then took ourselves off the New Mexico list. Super easy.

Felicia Morrow

Is it true that half of those receiving vaccines are not registered on the state COVID website? And that there is no data reported as to those individuals’ employment or comorbidities? Or age? Or ethnicity?

DL Arment

Yes, that is the real question. You hear how many people have registered and how many have been vaccinated. I am disappointed by this type of coverage that does not answer the real question. How many of the people vaccinated were actually pulled from the registration site? I think everyone would be very surprised to find out how low that percentage is. My observation is that people with connections to the medical or political machine in New Mexico get the shot. Without that, you are on your own. Follow my lead, go to Amarillo.

Staff
Rick Ruggles

Based on these responses, the article generates discussion and raises questions. This is important in our great democracy, Yes, we wish every article answered every question. American journalism generally does its best with the information available to it. Thank you for your appreciation.

Mike Johnson

I sympathize with your plight Mr. Ruggles. As a person who has spent much of my life trying to get politicians to answer questions and discuss facts, data, and rationale for doing things, I know they generally do not want to discuss, divulge, nor debate these kind of things. But recognize, this is why so few people trust government.

Felicia Morrow

You could do a great service by providing more insight as to the vaccine protocol decision and implementation. For example, although I fully agree essential workers deserve priority, I cannot fathom why age is not at the very least ranked equal to the state’s listed comorbidities as a key risk factor in determining vaccine eligibility. Also, why are a very large percentage of citizens getting vaccinated outside of the statewide vaccine registration site? There may be good answers to both, but given NM’s unusual policies/ protocol , it would be very helpful to provide insight. The state is doing a good job at getting people vaccinated, but that is true for many smaller states.

John Grieco

Agreed. As a Volunteer, Age 70 at Presby Santa Fe, I got my two doses in February. Yes, I'm part of that "Medical Machine." We've gone to Colorado for my wife. 2nd Shot April 1. Get this, they called us to Schedule. What is wrong with this State. AND, by my Math there are 75k vaccine doses unaccounted for.

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