New Mexico moves ahead with vaccine rollout for children
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico health officials on Wednesday applauded the federal government’s move to clear the way for COVID-19 vaccinations for children ages 5 to 11, saying the rollout will involve a robust team of physicians, pharmacies, hospitals and other health clinics.
Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Laura Parajon said children who don’t get the shots will remain vulnerable.
“This is really important because even though children don’t usually get as sick, there are still children who can get sick from COVID and get hospitalized. Even five children have died in New Mexico, so we really want to prevent that,” she said during a briefing.
The latest state data shows about one-quarter of the confirmed coronavirus infection cases reported in New Mexico over the past week were among children, but the number of hospitalizations among children has remained small. Officials also noted that there have been no deaths among children in recent weeks.
Health officials in New Mexico said they expect to receive an allocation of 90,000 doses of the pediatric vaccine over the next week. That will be enough to cover almost half of the state’s children ages 5 to 11.
State officials are planning to have vaccine clinics for youngsters in several cities around New Mexico in the coming weeks.
Many parents have indicated that they are reticent about getting their children inoculated. Almost two-thirds of parents in the U.S. recently polled by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they would either wait or not seek out the vaccines for their kids.
The vaccine for children is one-third of the dose given to older children and adults and administered with kid-sized needles. It requires two doses three weeks apart, plus two more weeks for full protection to take effect.
Parajon said there’s data that shows the vaccines are safe for children, and the state will be working with providers and others on messaging aimed at easing parents’ concerns. She pointed to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that estimates for every 10 children who are vaccinated, one case of COVID-19 can be prevented in another child.
Part of the goal is to reduce the opportunities the virus has to spread and mutate, state officials said.
The state Public Education Department is embarking on a new federally funded $63 million program for boosting testing in schools as a way to identify cases early on and avoid quarantines for students who have been exposed to someone who has been infected. The program is launching in Alamogordo, and numerous other schools have applied to participate.
Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said it could take three to five weeks for schools to implement because training and certification will be required. In some cases, districts plan to hire additional staff for the program.
He said the testing program will allow students to stay in school as well as participate in extra-curricular activities and school-related competitions. He also said it will be flexible to accommodate the needs of individual districts.
“The goal is to keep New Mexico students and staff safe. That’s what we’re working on, and we’re getting better at it every week,” he said. “We want to minimize quarantine times, and we want to keep our kids engaged in in-person learning.”
New Mexico is one of three states working with the CDC on the project. Officials said it’s possible it could be expanded to pre-kindergarten programs and child care centers.
Overall, New Mexico is seeing its confirmed coronavirus infections increase, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said.
“We need to be even more careful because the spread of delta is much more robust. Delta seems very effective at finding pockets in families and workplaces of unvaccinated people and spreading quite rapidly,” he said, adding that booster shots and precautions such as mask wearing, social distancing and hand-washing still are important because the virus can spread among the vaccinated.
State data shows more than 27% of cases reported in New Mexico over the last four weeks were among vaccinated people. While hospitalization rates were higher among the unvaccinated, 12 vaccinated people were among those who died because of COVID-19 in the past month.