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Pfizer selects New Mexico for vaccine pilot program

Dan Boyd
Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico is one of four states chosen for a COVID-19 vaccine delivery pilot program by Pfizer, one of the drugmakers at the forefront of a race to develop an effective vaccine. However, the company says this does not mean residents will get the vaccine any sooner.

SANTA FE - New Mexico is one of four states chosen for a COVID-19 vaccine delivery pilot program by Pfizer, one of the drugmakers at the forefront of a race to develop an effective vaccine.

Despite being picked for the project, New Mexico, which recently submitted its vaccine distribution plan to a federal agency, will not get vaccine doses earlier than other states, according to Pfizer.

But it could help address storage and distribution challenges before the vaccine becomes widely available — likely next spring or summer.

"The lessons learned from this pilot program should help New Mexico, other states, tribal partners and the federal government in administering the vaccine effectively and efficiently to diverse populations and communities," Matt Nerzig, a spokesman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said Tuesday.

He also said the state agreed to participate in the Pfizer pilot program to jump-start New Mexico's delivery plans once the vaccine gets final authorization by the federal government.

Along with New Mexico, the other three states selected for the pilot program are Texas, Rhode Island and Tennessee.

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The four states were selected based on their respective differences in size, population diversity and immunization infrastructure, according to a Pfizer.

"This pilot program, and our collaboration with U.S. and state officials will 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," Angela Hwang of Pfizer said in a statement.

A media relations official with the New York-based company said Tuesday that Pfizer was working closely with state officials on the pilot program.

But the company did not give details about the project's timeline or say what specific resources it might be providing New Mexico or other states.

One potential challenge with Pfizer's vaccine, which was shown to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 based on initial trials, is that it must be shipped and stored at an extremely low temperature — at least 94 degrees below zero.

In New Mexico, state officials have surveyed health care providers about virus preparedness issues, including cold storage capacity.

The Governor's Office said Tuesday that state officials expect to be able to count on Pfizer's temporary thermal shippers to keep the vaccine at the proper temperate during transit.

"We have also identified multiple entities in different regions of the state that have ultracold freezer storage capacity to hold those vaccine doses for a longer period of time if necessary, which will facilitate more robust and widespread administration of the Pfizer vaccine should it be approved, and found to be safe and effective," Nerzig said.

He also said New Mexico and other states would need federal assistance to administer the COVID-19 vaccine, citing a request from two national health care groups for Congress to approve $8.4 billion for such a purpose.

Others are reading:COVID-19 in New Mexico: State shatters previous daily records

New Mexico submitted its preliminary state coronavirus vaccination plan last month with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Under that plan, vulnerable health care workers would be prioritized during the state's first phase of vaccine distribution, with nursing home residents, first responders and those who work in prisons, homeless shelters and other group settings next in line to get the vaccine.

Eventually, all New Mexicans who want to receive a COVID-19 vaccine would be able to get one, though that might not happen until the vaccine is more widely available.