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New Mexico sets priorities for who gets first vaccine doses

December 4, 2020 GMT
A medical professional warms her hands against the cold between drive-thru COVID-19 tests at Lovelace Hospital in Albuquerque, N.M., Wednesday morning, Dec. 2, 2020. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)
A medical professional warms her hands against the cold between drive-thru COVID-19 tests at Lovelace Hospital in Albuquerque, N.M., Wednesday morning, Dec. 2, 2020. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s initial batch of 17,500 vaccine doses from drug maker Pfizer is slated to go to medical facilities and long-term care centers with an emphasis on people within those facilities who have high or medium exposure to the virus, the office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday.

States across the country are drafting plans for who will go to the front of the line when the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine become available later this month, as U.S. deaths from the outbreak eclipsed 3,100 in a single day, obliterating the record set last spring.

New Mexico officials announced a record 44 virus-related daily deaths on Thursday, breaking the previous record of 40 that was set just a day earlier.

Matt Nerzig, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said exact distribution of the vaccine in the first round is being mapped out through a survey of hospitals and a variety of federal population surveys.

“With regard to who at these hospitals and other facilities will receive priority, it will not be based on specialty but on their exposure level to the virus — those people in the hospital or other facility that have a high or medium exposure to the virus,” he said in an email.

Residents of New Mexico may receive an outsized number of initial vaccine doses because of a separate allocation to the federal Indian Health Service for Native American populations. Roughly 1 in 10 residents of New Mexico is Indigenous.

State health officials acknowledge that cold storage requirements for the Pfizer vaccine will present logistical challenges in tribal and other remote rural communities. The vaccine is expected to ship with cooling equipment that can help those efforts, according to the governor’s office.

Final decisions still were being made Thursday about the first wave of distribution and associated cold storage facilities.

New Mexico’s emphasis on exposure to the virus — and not particular job titles — would make a variety of health care workers and volunteers eligible for early vaccination.

“Importantly, the health care workforce in hospitals and long-term care facilities includes all individuals — whether medical staff, contractors or volunteers in hospitals with high or medium exposure to patients or infectious materials,” said Matt Nerzig, a spokesman for the governor’s office. “Racial and ethnic minorities make up a significant portion of the staff in hospitals and long-term care facilities.”

The current plan hews closely to nonbinding guidelines adopted this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to put health care workers and nursing home patients first.

But tensions were building about prioritizing future vaccine distribution.

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales on Thursday said educators should be near the front of the line alongside health workers.

Morales, a former public school teacher and state senator from Silver City, said in a statement that it is imperative for schools to reopen for classroom teaching after nine months of almost entirely online instruction.

“That requires educators to be at the front of the line, along with health care workers, for access to the vaccine,” Morales said in a statement. “Responsibly keeping educators safe now can restart in-person learning.”

State health officials reported an additional 1,908 confirmed cases Thursday, bringing the statewide total to more than 102,860. Hospitalizations also remained high.

Separately, officials in New Mexico’s largest city are planning a crackdown on illegal street racing and other disruptive driving that has accompanied the coronavirus pandemic and say they’ll seek new regulations to help them.

Interim Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said the city is expanding late-night patrols and will lobby state lawmakers for stiffer penalties for repeat offenders on par with sanctions for driving while intoxicated.

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He described a rash of complaints about drag racing, loud mufflers and tire-squealing maneuvers.

In the early months of the pandemic, several states reported an increase in citations for driving far over the speed limit. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller believes the speedway phenomenon extends to many communities nationwide.

“This is happening all over the country, and it’s because of COVID,” Keller said.