Surely you too have heard many anecdotes of New Mexicans over 70 or 75, and maybe younger, who have driven to Amarillo or southern Colorado in pursuit of COVID-19 vaccinations.

We don’t know how many of those vaccine tourists registered early on at the New Mexico Department of Health site,, to get a magic code number apparently used to get in the queue for a shot or shots. We also don’t know what that seven-digit number means.

You probably have a Social Security number. The three groups in that number each have separate definitions. For example, the first three digits reflect the state in which the individual first applied for a Social Security card. But who can tell us the definition of the COVID-19 registration?

Can anyone please tell us if that is simply a randomly generated number or if any single digit or combination of digits represents a specific piece of information being used by the health department? For example, do the first two digits mean an individual is in category 1A or 1B, etc. Do other digits indicate any other metadata relevant to the individual?

Second, we might assume the digits are being used as some sort of index number in the statewide data set. Hence, it falls somewhere in a queue for scheduled vaccinations. If so, why isn’t it being used to tell individuals (a) how many peers are in a particular class (assuming a random distribution of our fellows for vaccination) awaiting vaccinations or (b) where do we fall in the list, i.e. how many individuals in our class or each class are ahead of us for vaccination(s)?

This is an example of a classic failure of government employees to think that data like COVID-19 registration numbers belong to their specific departments instead of the taxpayers who paid to have the registration system set up. Especially in crisis cases like the pandemic, agency planners must start thinking, initially, how to make the data — our data — “public facing.”

That is, the planning and implementation must be done on parallel tracks: Create a system that maximizes information for the public while also meeting the needs of the agency’s goals and personnel. Yes, actual and anticipated supply of the little glass vials is an issue. But if in Colorado can administer a registration system that is specific yet simple to use, shouldn’t our health department have similar capabilities?

If you go to the state’s vaccination site, you should be easily and quickly told if you need to gas up the car for a road trip east or north.

Tom Johnson is the coordinator of It’s The People’s Data, Santa Fe.

(2) comments


I agree with Mr Johnson—having accurate data about where I am in the queue would quell my anxiety about when I may qualify for a vaccine.

Mike Johnson

Very well said. My wife and I, in our early 70s, registered immediately as the website was opened in December. Of course no information on how people were being selected as well as nothing on what any number means or how this was going to work. The 1A, 1B, etc. categories are vague, non-specific, and of course, as it has played out when you see people getting vaccinated, not followed at all. That is why people are looking for any alternative to waiting for an email or text that may never come. No one I know who has received a shot, got the notice by email or text from this registration site. Is it even working? We have no idea, a huge failure of government here.

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