New Mexico’s definition of “fully vaccinated” could change to cover only those who have had three COVID-19 shots, the governor and top state health officials said Wednesday.
Such a move would reflect concerns that vaccines begin to lose their effectiveness after about six months, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. She suggested New Mexico’s success at getting residents vaccinated early could therefore be responsible for recent high case numbers; on Wednesday, the state reported 1,530 new infections.
The Department of Health also reported Wednesday that 539 people were in the hospital statewide with COVID-19 complications. That’s the highest number of such hospitalizations since January 2020, acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said.
“I want folks to get their boosters,” Lujan Grisham said, noting losing one’s immunity to the coronavirus puts unvaccinated or younger people at risk. She departed Wednesday’s two-hour virtual news conference before a question-and-answer media session.
Data from the state Department of Health shows vaccination numbers are slowly rising, with 18 percent of adults in New Mexico — more than 292,000 residents 18 and older — having received a booster by Wednesday.
Nearly 74 percent of adult residents have had at least two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson version, while 55.3 percent of kids ages 12 to 17 have completed the first series. The state continues to roll out inoculations for children ages 5 to 11; 7.9 percent have received an initial dose.
Still, the governor warned COVID-19 cases are spiking in the West as the holiday season approaches.
“Think about smaller gatherings,” she said. “If you’re in a warmer community, think of being outside for Thanksgiving. If you can wear your masks except for when eating, do that.”
Dr. Christine Ross, the state epidemiologist, urged those who aren’t fully vaccinated to get tested before and after holiday travel.
“COVID can masquerade as many different things, so without a test, it’s very difficult to know if you have COVID-19 or not,” she said.
Colder weather’s arrival — Thursday’s forecast low in Santa Fe is 30 degrees — is sending people indoors and creating what Lujan Grisham called a “high-risk ecosystem.”
Scrase was optimistic about emerging antiviral pills, saying the federal government has told the state they’d be available to distribute by the end of this month, but “we’ll see if it holds.”
Scrase said he receives long, less-than-pleasant emails from skeptics, some of whom say Arizona has fewer cases than New Mexico despite not having a statewide mask mandate.
“It’s a complete misunderstanding of what it means to fight disease and to fight a pandemic,” he said.
“It isn’t that masks don’t work,” he added. “We know masks work. We know that if no one wore a mask, we’d have way, way more cases than we have today.”