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New Mexico to boost vaccines for seniors, vulnerable groups

February 26, 2021 GMT
This Dec. 16, 2020 image provided by UNM Health shows a bin of COVID-19 vaccines for the first round of health care workers to be vaccinated at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center in Albuquerque, N.M. (UNM Health via AP)
This Dec. 16, 2020 image provided by UNM Health shows a bin of COVID-19 vaccines for the first round of health care workers to be vaccinated at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center in Albuquerque, N.M. (UNM Health via AP)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico health officials said Thursday they have a plan to boost COVID-19 vaccinations among older people and other vulnerable populations.

Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said during an online briefing that the plan calls for increasing shots among seniors by 10% over the next two weeks. The effort will include more outreach by providers, walk-in and locally scheduled clinics and the use of mobile vaccination teams.

Collins said more doses also will be allocated over the next three weeks to areas of the state that are considered particularly vulnerable based on the rate of infection and a series of factors that range from household income and minority status to the availability of housing and transportation. She pointed to McKinley County as an example of one of the more at-risk spots in New Mexico.

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“Really we’re looking at taking a portion of our doses and ensuring that they go to those vulnerable populations,” she said. “But keep in mind we’re getting more doses each week so it’s not like we’re taking away doses from any one group. It’s just that we’re being very strategic about allocating to the most vulnerable.”

According to the state’s latest data, about 1 in 10 New Mexicans have been fully vaccinated and about 20% of the population has received the first shot.

Collins said the state is among the top three in the U.S. when it comes to distribution rates and is No. 1 in terms of using those vaccines most efficiently. That means the shots are going to places where they can do the most to stop spread and prevent death, she said.

New Mexico’s positivity rate and daily case totals have been declining in recent weeks, but health officials acknowledged during the briefing that public health restrictions such as mask-wearing, social distancing and hand-washing continue to play a larger role in the downward trends than vaccinations.

Dr. David Scrase, head of the New Mexico Human Services Department, said it’s still a “winning combination” to have vaccinations outpace new daily cases by more than 30 times.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also outlined the changes to the state’s color-coded risk system, saying great progress has been made and each of the state’s 33 counties now have a positivity rate below 10%. That metric — along with the per-capita case rate — is used to determine whether counties are classified as red, yellow, green or turquoise and can relax more public health restrictions.

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Under the newest low-risk category, indoor dining and occupancy rates at retail businesses, large entertainment venues, churches, gyms, bars and clubs is expanded. Gatherings of up to 150 people also are allowed. Four counties are in that turquoise category.

“It doesn’t mean the virus is gone and it doesn’t mean all the risk is gone,” the governor said. “... We really do have to continue to be incredibly dedicated to all of the public health measures.”