New Mexico weighs options for teacher vaccination mandate

Susan Montoya Bryan
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE – The U.S. government needs to boost vaccine supplies if it wants New Mexico to meet a new mandate for getting at least one shot into the arms of all teachers by the end of March, top state officials said Wednesday.

Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said during a briefing that the state already has vaccinated more than 15,000 educators and that the group was next in line to be prioritized under New Mexico’s phased-in approach to distributing vaccinations. Still, state officials have been reluctant to offer a timeline for expanding eligibility given ongoing supply issues.

“They are a priority for us as well, so we’re going to work closely with the White House to figure out how to make this happen,” Collins said of the push to get more teachers vaccinated. Discussions are underway with the Biden administration, she said.

Many New Mexico school districts have opted not to dramatically increase in-person learning despite approval from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Some have opened on a limited basis, allowing students to attend in-person based on the availability of teachers who volunteer.

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Citing the limiting factor of vaccine supply, Lujan Grisham said in a statement that she was hopeful Biden’s directive was an indication that the federal government would be sending more support to the states to get schools opened safely on a faster timeline.

New Mexico is leading the nation when it comes to the percentage of vaccine doses used, having administered more than 94% of its doses. It’s the second-fastest state for administration with nearly one-quarter of residents partially vaccinated and nearly 13% fully vaccinated.

In all, more than 609,000 doses have been administered, and the state has the capacity to distribute more than 50,000 doses per week, Collins said.

“So the more supply that comes in, the better off we are with getting shots in arms,” she said.

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The state this week received more than 17,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved one-shot vaccine. Those were targeted to 10 counties that have so far had low vaccination coverage, state officials said.

According to the state’s data, vaccinations now account for lowering the incidence of new COVID-19 infections by about 50%. That’s up from about 30% just days ago, but state officials stressed that public health restrictions such as mask-wearing and social distancing are still a necessary part of the equation.

State officials described steep declines in new confirmed infections, hospitalizations and deaths because of the virus. Still, they said they are monitoring variants and stressed the importance of testing as a way to keep tracking the virus.