Home News COVID-19 Situation COVID-19 vaccine distributed to NM hospitals

COVID-19 vaccine distributed to NM hospitals

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In this image provided by Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, pharmacy staff members unpack the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines at the hospital Monday in Santa Fe. The medical center was the first in New Mexico to receive doses, as hospitals elsewhere around the state prepared for deliveries. Dr. Tracie Collins, NMDOH secretary-designate, said Tuesday the state received 17,550 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and distributed them to 30 hospitals across the state. (AP Photo)

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The COVID-19 vaccine is being distributed to hospitals across the state, including in Roswell, but that doesn’t mean New Mexicans should let their guards down against the coronavirus, the secretary-designate of the New Mexico Department of Health said Tuesday.

After gaining emergency authorization Friday from the Food and Drug Administration, pharmaceutical company Pfizer began distribution of its COVID-19 vaccine across the country. Dr. Tracie Collins, NMDOH secretary-designate, said in a livestreamed press conference Tuesday morning New Mexico received 17,550 doses in its first shipment Monday. Those vaccines are being distributed to 30 hospitals across the state.

“Today we begin to turn the tide,” Collins said.

Brooke Linthicum, marketing director of Eastern New Mexico Medical Center, said in an email to the Roswell Daily Record the hospital received its first allotment of 175 vaccines Tuesday and will start administering them Wednesday afternoon.

Lovelace Regional Hospital did not respond to an email inquiry about vaccines by press time.

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“We are in the process of finalizing our plans to vaccinate our employees and medical staff members over the next few days,” Linthicum said.

“Initially we anticipate the first to receive vaccination will be health care personnel who provide direct care to the most vulnerable populations and in their line of work have a high likelihood of contact with COVID-positive patients and those who are integral to health care structure and the response to the pandemic,” she said.

That is in line with the plan Collins outlined in her press conference.

“As New Mexico receives additional shipments in the coming weeks, we will continue to provide vaccines to front-line health care workers as well as staff and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities,” she said.

The state cannot mandate anyone take the vaccine, and hospitals cannot mandate their employees get it, either, Collins said.

Linthicum said ENMMC anticipates many of its employees will choose to be vaccinated.

“We are focused on educating our employees about the vaccine, including sharing information about safety, efficacy and side effects,” she said.

Pfizer has said its vaccine is 95% effective and has no serious side effects. Temporary side effects such as fever and muscle pain have been reported. The FDA has advised watching for cases of Bell’s palsy — a temporary weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles — after a handful of cases in trials of the drug.

A second vaccine by pharmaceutical company Moderna could receive emergency authorization from the FDA later this week. Collins said that vaccine will likely go to long-term care facilities for staff and residents.

“We’re still working on the plans for that. Once we confirm that it will be distributed, then we can provide more information moving forward,” she said.

Collins cautioned, however, data on the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness on preventing the spread of the virus is still needed.

“While the vaccine prevents COVID infection, we’re still learning whether it prevents transmission. This means that as New Mexicans begin to get vaccinated, we still need to wear masks, maintain 6-foot social distancing, wash our hands often and keep up with other COVID-safe practices,” she said.

“This will take many months and much patience but we will get there,” she said.

Testing for COVID-19 will also continue to be important, Collins said. The state is working on plans to make rapid at-home tests available, but she could not give a timeline for that.

“We are balancing making sure we continue with testing, looking at options that are efficient like the at-home test but then also revving up for vaccination,” she said.

Collins said both federal and state data will guide New Mexico in its plans to further distribute vaccines as they become available.

“We will certainly look and review the federal guidelines but we will also look closely at our state to make the best decision for the state working with the team of medical experts and public health practitioners to define what needs to happen next,” she said.

Collins repeated several times throughout the press conference the importance of continuing COVID-safe practices, especially as Christmas nears.

“People really need to continue to keep their distance and interact with those whom you live. Do not have large gatherings. If we can make sure people do that — if — then I think we could see kind of a steadiness of what’s happening currently,” she said of the decline of new daily cases since the state’s November “reset” of restrictions.

She said she is concerned, though, that people are getting tired and will spend the holiday at large gatherings.

“I’m hoping that New Mexicans really consider that we’re in the home stretch and that, yes, this is a holiday that we love to spend with family, but this is not the time to have large gatherings or to mingle with those outside of your home,” she said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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