New Mexico prepares to fight vaccine hesitancy in some areas
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico health officials said Wednesday they are preparing to respond to pockets of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in some communities at the same time that overall interest in getting vaccinated increases.
Health Secretary Tracie Collins said the state is exploring recruiting “community champions” — trusted residents of regions with vaccine hesitancy who can address concerns about safety and effectiveness. Town halls also are a possibility to vet concerns and possible misinformation. And video testimonials about coronavirus vaccines already have been recorded.
“We’ve got a lot of work we’re going to be doing these next few weeks to really get ahead of this vaccine hesitancy,” Collins said.
She said precise statistics showing the vaccine hesitancy trends are not yet ready to be released.
Medical providers also have a crucial rolU.Se in listening and addressing people’s fears, Human Services Secretary David Scrase said in a virtual news conference.
“It really is more, I think, about giving people the opportunity to have a conversation about what their concerns are ... and work through those,” Scrase said.
The state’s two top health officials said cards showing proof of vaccination can be required by businesses and other venues to provide or refuse entry or service and that the cards might become a requirement by airlines or cruises. That could increase the incentive for vaccination.
But Collins and Scrase indicated that the state won’t pursue any vaccination card mandates. Scrase said that kind of regulation might unintentionally shut out groups that have less access to the vaccine because of a low income, lack of computer access or transportation problems.
“We don’t want to do anything like that,” he said.
New Mexico is among the top states for vaccine distribution, with nearly 40% of residents 16 and older fully vaccinated as of Wednesday.
First lady Jill Biden offered her encouragement during a visit Wednesday to a vaccine clinic in Albuquerque as part of a three-day tour of the U.S. Southwest that includes the Navajo Nation.
Health officials reported an uptick in positive daily COVID-19 tests to a rolling seven-day average of 219 on Tuesday.
And nine counties out of 33 went back to tighter restrictions on indoor gatherings and business operations based on increases in indicators of confirmed COVID-19 infections.
Republican state Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell condemned the monitoring system as outdated and said it penalizes sparsely populated counties where positive test rates can spike based on a handful of cases.
“The inevitable came to pass and New Mexico businesses are again facing more restrictions,” he said. “More than half of our state’s citizens have had at least one vaccine and thousands more have recovered and are immune. ... It is time for a full reopening of our state.”
Scrase said the statewide increase in cases isn’t severe and that he expects most counties to shed most restrictions by late May. He also described indications that young adults are getting sick more often, though with less severe health consequences.
Nearly 15,000 vaccines are being administered in a state of about 2.1 million residents.