Home News COVID-19 Situation Officials begin meeting about COVID vaccines

Officials begin meeting about COVID vaccines

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Bill Williams, interim Chaves County manager (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Local officials are starting to plan for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the area.

Online meetings coordinated by the New Mexico Department of Health and the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management have begun, although planning specific to Chaves County probably will not start in earnest until early 2021, according to Bill Williams, interim Chaves County manager.

“Our role is just to assist in getting the word out there and to know what the plan is,” Williams said.

He explained that the Roswell-Chaves County Emergency Management Office is heading up the local planning. Calls and emails to that office were not responded to by press time.

The state departments are holding online “tabletop” exercises to discuss the proper tracking, handling and administering of the two COVID-19 vaccines that are seeking or soon will seek emergency authorization from the Federal Drug Administration, one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and the other by Moderna and scientists from the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

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Another vaccine candidate, developed by AstraZeneca in the United Kingdom, is seeking emergency authorization from that country’s regulators.

Distribution plans in the United States actually began with Operation Warp Speed, headed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Defense. Those departments are working with numerous federal agencies, as well as state and local entities.

Alex Azar, Health and Human Services secretary, said during a press conference Tuesday that the first vaccine doses could be ready for distribution within days after Dec. 10, which is when the FDA is scheduled to decide about Pfizer’s emergency authorization request.

In New Mexico, state and local officials are working to identify two top categories of people to receive the first doses, called populations 1a and 1b.

The first target population, or 1a, will likely be health care workers, first responders and other people working in crucial sectors of an area’s workforce.

While it isn’t known for sure which groups will be in the 1b target group at the local level, Health and Human Services documents have said that good candidates for a 1b population would be senior citizens and people in hospitals or other care facilities who are considered at high risk of catching COVID-19 and having severe symptoms if infected.

Williams said it is anticipated that Chaves County will receive 57,500 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines during initial distribution.

The county will not be involved in the actual distribution of the vaccines because the vaccines require specialized equipment, including ultralow-temperature freezers.

In Chaves County, hospitals are expected to be the first distribution sites to the 1a populations, Williams said.

Officials with the federal government and vaccine developers have said that widespread availability of vaccines to the general population through pharmacies, doctors’ offices, health clinics and mobile health units is expected sometime in spring 2021.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.