The success of vaccinations in helping blunt COVID-19 is reason to be optimistic the worst of the pandemic is over. It’s also evidence of the mantra of these past 12 months: “Trust the science.”
And science, through effective vaccinations, seems to be delivering the nation from misery, isolation and suffering.
But this, as President Joe Biden said last week, “is not the time to relax.” To that end, he is planning to spend $86 million to send 25 million masks to people all across the nation. He is making it clear, by example and with his words, that Americans should continue to wear masks, remain at a distance from each other and keep washing or disinfecting their hands.
The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense plan to start distributing high-quality cloth masks to some 1,300 community health centers as well as 60,000 food pantries and soup kitchens in March, according to the White House.
In addition to delivering 100 million shots in 100 days, one of Biden’s goals for the early days of his administration was to persuade all Americans to wear a mask. This basic public health strategy — masking up will slow the spread of germs — somehow became a partisan football, with too many fumbling this undeniable truth. Masks sent across the country will help people do the right thing.
Even as prospects for the end of the pandemic are improving, the underlying message — don’t let up — needs to resonate.
In New Mexico, a briefing Thursday brought similar good news about COVID-19. Cases are down, as are hospitalizations. Deaths are decreasing.
And despite individual complaints and concerns, the vaccination rollout in New Mexico is proceeding at a fast pace, with 1 in 10 New Mexicans fully vaccinated and about 20 percent of people receiving the first shot.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks New Mexico first in the country in using its doses efficiently. CDC numbers from Friday show New Mexico has received 705,015 doses and administered 634,845, for a 90.05 percent rate of distributing vaccines.
New Mexico can be proud of this record, but officials need to continue to ensure the most vulnerable people are getting their shots. Finding those people is important, which appears to be the goal of a new Department of Health program unveiled last week.
Department of Health Secretary Tracie Collins said the state is starting more targeted approaches, increasing shots to seniors by 10 percent over the next two weeks. Clinics will be scheduled locally. Mobile vaccination clinics will be dispatched and providers will reach out to patients. That’s critical, especially for seniors who live independently and might have trouble making it to a clinic.
The state also is going to do more to deliver vaccinations to other vulnerable populations, people more at risk from serious consequences should they catch the virus.
We would encourage the Department of Health to keep reminding all New Mexicans how many people are eligible for shots right now. Vaccinating all who currently are eligible will take weeks. One reason New Mexico’s COVID-19 restrictions were tougher than other states is that we have tens of thousands who suffer from underlying conditions, such as diabetes and obesity. Many people are eligible right now, and processing all who want vaccinations is going to take time.
Reaching everyone is a huge project, both nationally and at the state level. Until more vaccination doses are produced, delays will be common. But the vaccines are coming, and that’s another sign of hope.
As vaccination distribution continues, everyone can give the science time to work by wearing masks and staying distanced — especially with new, potentially more infectious strains of COVID-19 now evident. The nation is emerging from what has been a horrible year of loss, isolation and financial struggle. Now is no time to let up.