Feds, state pause Johnson & Johnson vaccine administration

The state of New Mexico paused its distribution of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after reports of possibly related, very rare blood clots. The state made the announcement on Tuesday after recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal Food and Drug Administration citing reports of six “rare and severe” blood clots out of the 6.8 million doses of the vaccine nationwide, a rate of less than one in a million. “New Mexico – like the federal government – is acting out of an abundance of caution,” New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said in a statement. “As we learn more, we will share that information.” 

The DOH Twitter account noted that the cases represent a tiny fraction of the Johnson & Johnson doses. “This move shows that the federal oversight process of vaccine safety and effectiveness is working,” according to DOH.

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.

First vaccine rolls out in New Mexico Monday

The first  batch of COVID-19 vaccines have already arrived in New Mexico. Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe received its first shipment of the first COVID-19 vaccine Monday. Christus St. Vincent was one of 145 hospitals in the country to receive the vaccine Monday, according to the hospital’s Facebook page.

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.

State urges higher vaccination rates, confirms measles case

The New Mexico Department of Health confirmed the state’s first case of measles in nearly five years. Last week, DOH said a one-year-old child from Sierra County is the first New Mexican infected with the disease since December of 2014. “We have worked with the clinic that treated the child and the patient’s family to identify people who may have been exposed so we can prevent more cases of the disease,” DOH Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel announced Friday. “We encourage everyone to check whether you and your family have been vaccinated to protect against measles. Immunization is the best tool we have to protect people from measles.”

Measles is highly infectious and was considered eliminated in the United States in 2000, thanks to the development of a vaccine in the 1960s and a concerted effort by the Centers for Disease Control beginning in the late 1970s.

State Rep: Glad about ‘discussion’ on vaccination exemptions

State Rep. Deborah Armstrong watched with interest while California debated changes to the law on exemptions vaccinations for children. California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that would give California one of the strictest laws regarding vaccination exemptions. The other two states with similarly strict laws are West Virginia and Mississippi; Mississippi has the highest rate of vaccinated children in the nation. “I’m glad to see that there was support and recognition that something needs to be done to not have exemptions be really easy, but for legitimate reasons to be able to have an exemption,” the Albuquerque Democrat told New Mexico Political Report in a short phone interview on Wednesday morning. Armstrong introduced legislation in this year’s New Mexico legislative session that would close a loophole in the state’s vaccination law.

Bill would ‘close vaccination loophole’

A bill by a freshman Democrat would close what she describes a loophole in vaccinations. With a rise in the number of unvaccinated, New Mexico and other states have seen outbreaks of Measles, a disease that can be deadly that had largely been stopped because of vaccinations. Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, is the bill’s sponsor and told New Mexico Political Report that the national attention helped bring momentum to the idea. “There’s national attention on it,” she said. “As a result of that national attention, everyone talking about it, some pediatricians approached me that the time is right to try and deal with this, the current exemptions.”

Dr. Barry Ramo: Not vaccinating kids is child abuse

Following his testimony at the Roundhouse this afternoon in support of a proposal to increase the widespread use of heart defibrillator devices, New Mexico Political Report caught up with Dr. Barry Ramo to get his take on the measles outbreak still spreading across several states. Utah, Arizona and Colorado have all seen cases of the disease, and while an isolated case in New Mexico in December was unrelated to the current outbreak, state health officials are on high alert. Santa Fe Public Schools announced last week that students whose vaccines aren’t up-to-date and who lack a legitimate state exemption won’t be allowed to attend classes. Ramo didn’t mince words in his criticism of folks who refuse to immunize their children, adding that unvaccinated kids aren’t the only ones at risk for highly contagious (and often fatal) diseases like measles—so are others with compromised immune systems.

New Mexico has seen a rise since 2012 in the number of children receiving Department of Health exemptions from vaccines for religious or medical reasons. According to the state’s application, exemptions require written certification from a doctor “stating that the physical condition of the child is such that immunization would seriously endanger the life or health of the child.” Religious exemptions for minors, on the other hand, require a signed and notarized affidavit from either a church leader or the child’s legal guardian affirming that vaccination conflicts with their religious beliefs.