NM ready to expand vaccinations—if feds send more supply

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.

Governor, health officials discuss COVID-19 vaccine efforts

The governor and New Mexico health officials are optimistic that they have enough capacity to administer vaccines—with a bottleneck at the number of vaccines the state receives from the federal government. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham acknowledged that the state has also seen its fair share of hiccups, including an overwhelmed call center devoted to vaccinations because of unexpected demand from the public. 

“We should stop underestimating that and we can do better, straight up. We can just do better,” she said. But she also placed blame on a much-criticized federal distribution of the vaccines to states. “The planning by the federal government was very poor,” the governor said.

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.

Gov. Lujan Grisham appoints new health secretary

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office announced the appointment of a new Department of Health secretary on Wednesday. 

In a statement, Lujan Grisham said she was “thrilled to welcome” Dr. Tracie Collins as the New Mexico Department of Health secretary-designate.   

“New Mexico has never needed experienced and compassionate public health leadership more than right now,” Lujan Grisham said. “Dr. Collins will hit the ground running as part of our state’s COVID-19 response effort with the Department of Health and indeed all of state government.”

Collins is currently the dean of Population Health at the University of New Mexico and according to the governor’s office announcement has served in a variety of public health in the world of academia. 

Collins, in a statement through the governor’s office, said she is ready to start working with staff at the DOH to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This is a very challenging time for all of us,” Collins said. “There is much work to be done to ensure the health and safety of New Mexicans. But I know the dedicated professionals of the Department of Health, and the many health care leaders throughout our state, are going to continue working tirelessly to address the needs of our diverse communities, both in this current crisis and beyond.”

Collins’ appointment comes months after former health secretary Kathyleen Kunkel announced her retirement. The department’s legal counsel Billy Jimenez served as acting secretary after Kunkel left.