Rio Rancho, other school vaccine events canceled

The state Department of Health explained the cancellation of COVID-19 events for educators and school staff by saying the state was not in the part of Phase 1B where essential frontline workers could be vaccinated. A vaccination clinic for Rio Rancho Public Schools and others’ staff was scheduled for Friday, but those who had vaccinations scheduled at the event were informed that the DOH had said it could not go forward. “Everyone’s disappointed and we have had some tears and people have been really distraught over this,” RRPS superintendent Dr. Sue Cleveland told NM Political Report on Thursday. Cleveland said the school district was informed on Wednesday night by DOH that the event, which would have vaccinated 1,800 school employees, could not go forward. And after asking for a reconsideration, they were told no again on Thursday.

UNM to use The Pit as COVID-19 vaccination site

The University of New Mexico has not hosted a basketball home game at the iconic University Arena, known as The Pit, since early in 2020. But the arena will soon have crowds again for a very different reason, as University of New Mexico Health announced it would use the property as a site for mass-COVID-19 vaccinations as the state moves to expand vaccinations. The plan is currently to start vaccinations at the site on Jan. 19. UNM Hospitals Chief Executive Officer Kate Becker said UNM Health said “vaccination is the key to getting past this pandemic.” 

She estimated the facility would be able to administer 1,680 doses of the Pfizer vaccine per day, then ramp up to double that number, nearly 3,400, when those who are vaccinated need their second shot of the vaccine.

DOH, hospital leaders talk about COVID-19 vaccine rollout, COVID-19 spread

As New Mexico looks to move to phase 1B of its COVID-19 vaccination plan, nearly 400,000 New Mexicans have signed up to get their name on the list, Health Secretary-designate Dr. Tracie Collins said in a press conference Monday. As of Monday, and citing information from 81 percent of providers, Collins said the state had received more than 170,000 doses from the federal government—despite a rocky process on the federal level—and administered 78,143 of those doses, including more than 30,000 in the last week. Those who qualify for a vaccination “will receive a notification when a vaccine is available at a nearby location” and be able to set up an appointment, Collins said. She also said that the state was working to hire more employees for the state’s vaccine call center to avoid long wait times or, which happened at times last week, the inability for some to even connect to the call center. She said the state’s goal was to have more capacity than the needs for calls.

State moves to phase 1B of vaccination plan

The state Department of Health released its plan on further vaccination efforts in the state, saying the state moved past phase 1A, which featured vaccinating frontline healthcare workers and residents and employees at long term care facilities, to phase 1B. Under phase 1B, those 75 years of age or older, those 16 or older with underlying medical conditions that place them at greater risk from COVID-19, frontline essential workers who cannot work remotely, educators and other school employees and vulnerable populations such as those at congregate care facilities are now eligible to join those part of phase 1A in getting vaccinations. “DOH is pleased to release New Mexico’s vaccination plan – and to provide the clarity that New Mexicans seek about this critical effort,” Department of Health Secretary-designate Dr. Tracie Collins said. The department said Collins would have further remarks in a remote press conference on Monday. 

Earlier this week, Collins said exact numbers were not available because not all providers had reported their vaccination numbers, but the state estimated that about 60 percent of the 106,500 doses the state received from the federal government had been administered. At the same time, DOH announced who would be eligible under phase 1C and phase 2 of the state’s vaccination plan.

NM part of Pfizer’s pilot program for COVID-19 vaccine

While widespread distribution is still months away, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced that New Mexico would be one of four states to participate in a pilot delivery program for the distribution of its COVID-19 vaccine, though this does not mean the state will receive doses of the vaccine before other areas. Pfizer announced earlier this month that a preliminary analysis found that the vaccine was over 90 percent effective in preventing illness. New Mexico—along with Rhode Island, Texas and Tennessee—will take part in the pilot program, which will not include any early distribution of the vaccine. “The four states included in this pilot program will not receive vaccine doses earlier than other states by virtue of this pilot, nor will they receive any differential consideration,” Pfizer said in its announcement. The pilot program is designed to “help us prepare for broader vaccine deployment in the near future, subject to authorization or approval, as we work to address this urgent public health need,” according to Pfizer Biopharmaceuticals Pfizer Pio Group President Angela Hwang.

As faith in vaccines falters, Biden is under pressure to name new FDA chief stat

President-elect Joe Biden made COVID-19 a linchpin of his campaign, criticizing President Donald Trump’s leadership on everything from masks and packed campaign rallies to vaccines. That was the easy part. Biden now has the urgent job of filling top health care positions in his administration to help restore public trust in science-driven institutions Trump repeatedly undermined, and oversee the rollout of several coronavirus vaccines to a skeptical public who fear they were rushed for political expediency. At the top of that list is a new commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, an agency where Biden faces immense pressure to move faster than any other modern president as the pandemic rages and COVID deaths are expected to surge through the winter. That agency and its beleaguered personnel will be relied on to give the green light to vaccines and therapeutics to fight the COVID pandemic.

A real vaccine before the election? It’d take a miracle.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. Despite President Donald Trump’s promises of a vaccine next month and pundits’ speculation about how an “October surprise” could upend the presidential campaign, any potential vaccine would have to clear a slew of scientific and bureaucratic hurdles in record time. In short, it would take a miracle. We talked to companies, regulators, scientific advisers and analysts and reviewed hundreds of pages of transcripts and study protocols to understand all the steps needed for a coronavirus vaccine to be scientifically validated and cleared for public use.