Major hospital systems in New Mexico say that they are prepared to administer many more COVID-19 shots as they become available. But the nature of the supply chain is not only out of their hands, it’s out of the hands of the state, which relies on distribution from the federal government.
Department of Health Secretary-designate Dr. Tracie Collins said that, as of Sunday, the state had received 221,375 COVID-19 vaccine doses from the federal government and administered 203,830, or over 90 percent.
“New Mexico [has] the third-highest vaccine administration rate among all states in the country,” Collins said. “So we have a lot to be proud of.”
The limiting factor for New Mexico Collins said, echoing what health officials had said earlier, was available supply.
“We are waiting on the federal government, it’s really their discretion,” Collins said of receiving more doses. “Certainly we can advocate for more doses and highlight the needs that we have in the state, and that’s what we’re doing.”
The state is told a week in advance how many doses they will receive, then make plans on how to distribute those doses when they’re received.
Collins also addressed recent cases where some school employees, including educators, received the vaccination while other events for vaccinations of school employees were canceled.
“We had problems with internal communication in the department, which led to confusion,” Collins said. “And that led to us having to cancel these events, because again, it was not in the order that we’ve outlined for who’s currently to be vaccinated.”
New Mexico is currently vaccinating frontline health care workers, who are part of phase 1A, and members of a “subphase” of phase 1B: Those who are age 75 or older or those age 16 or older with a medical condition that could put them at a higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19.
Essential workers, which includes teachers, are in the next subphase, though it would likely be several weeks until the state moves onto that subphase.
Collins asked for those seeking the vaccine to be honest on whether or not they have a condition that qualifies for receiving a vaccine before the general population.
“If you jumped the line, you’re actually allowing for someone else to wait, who’s really in need of this vaccine, and who’s at risk of serious complications,” Collins said. “So we have heard stories about that. And we’re trying to work to ensure that people are honest.”
Hospital leaders, who are aiding in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, said things have been running relatively smoothly and that they have capacity to distribute more vaccines if the state receives more supply.
Dr. David Gonzales, the chief medical officer at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, said Christus St. Vincent has been allotted 1,000 per week and they are “very diligent in administering those doses over the week during weekdays.”
Dr. David Pitcher, the University of New Mexico Health System executive physician, said UNM has a goal to vaccinate up to 600 people per day at its site at The Pit which opened last week. And top officials from Presbyterian and Lovelace said that they’re working with DOH to set up higher volume vaccination sites similar to UNM’s at The Pit.
While exact numbers were not available, hospital leaders said around 80 percent to 90 percent of frontline healthcare workers had received COVID-19 vaccinations.
Gonzales said that acceptance among doctors is “pretty darn close” to 100 percent.
Human Service Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase had some good news with dropping COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalization numbers in recent weeks.
He noted that the case count, which lags behind by six days, was at 792 as of Jan. 19 and seems likely to not increase as further days’ totals are completed.
“We have not had any days with cases above 1000 [in recent days],” he said.
Hospital leaders also mentioned the good news of declining numbers of reported COVID-19 cases statewide in recent weeks.
The number of deaths, he said, would likely continue at their current high rate through the first week of February. Deaths from COVID-19 have typically increased a month after an increase in cases.
Presbyterian Healthcare Services Medical Director Dr. Denise Gonzales also acknowledged the pattern.
“There’s a well-known trend of a two week lag. So test positivity goes up and peaks, and then hospitalizations will peak about two weeks after that, and then mortality or deaths will peak two weeks after that point,” she said. “So it’s exactly the way we observed it during the first wave. And it’s replicating now with the second wave.”
Still, Pitcher said it was a time for “cautious optimism” because of the case numbers dropping.
“That should be reassuring not only to the citizens of New Mexico but also to our healthcare workforce, which continues every day to to deal with the stressful effects of this pandemic, as well as the ongoing medical challenges of the citizens of New Mexico,” he said.
Still they noted that hospitalizations are still seeing high numbers of patients because of COVID-19 and those who are hospitalized for other reasons.
“While we may have plateaued or even decreased a little bit in our number of our COVID hospitalizations, we’re still seeing a lot of the usual types of patients that we get this time of year. And so therefore beds continue to be a little tight at times,” David Gonzales said.