FEMA grant, increased supplies boost Doña Ana County vaccination efforts

Algernon D'Ammassa
Las Cruces Sun-News

LAS CRUCES – Doña Ana County COVID-19 vaccinations have been bolstered by additional supplies as well as a new federal grant, announced Wednesday, to extend local efforts to distribute the vaccine. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded $1,019,855 to the county for equipment, supplies and personnel costs involved in vaccination events across the county, the county announced. 

That comes on top of another FEMA grant awarding $112,000 to the county fire and emergency services department to replenish supplies of personal protective equipment.

Additionally, the New Mexico Department of Health is dispatching a mobile vaccination unit to the village of Hatch, as well as to the border community of Columbus in neighboring Luna County, for what will be the second mobile event in that community, and mobile events at other locations were planned as well. 

More:Las Cruces Fire Department home vaccination program expanding capacity

In a video news conference Wednesday, state Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said 17,414 New Mexico educators, early childhood educators and school staff were fully vaccinated (meaning two weeks had elapsed since receiving their ultimate dose of vaccine, whether it is the booster from a two-shot vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine). 

Clockwise from top right, New Mexico Deputy Health Secretary Laura Parajón, state Human Services Secretary David Scrase, state Health Secretary Tracie Collins, and an ASL interpreter are seen during a video news conference on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.

On March 8, New Mexico announced vaccinations of educators would resume, coinciding with the state's announcement that public schools and charters could reopen fully beginning the week of April 5. 

A total of 46,595 educators and staff had received at least their initial dose of two-shot vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna as of Wednesday, Collins said, with 3,227 more having appointments scheduled. 

More:Las Cruces Public Schools announces full reentry plan to begin April 6

Otherwise, the state remains at the same stage in its phased vaccine rollout, which makes the shots available to New Mexicans who have registered on the state's vaccine registry based on age, chronic health conditions and occupation. 

A slide from the New Mexico Department of Health depicts the tiered plan for distributing COVID-19 vaccine in the state.

Currently, that includes all of Phase 1A, consisting mainly of hospital and healthcare personnel as well as workers in congregate settings such as correctional facilities and residential care settings; and the first two subgroups of Phase 1B.

Those two subgroups include New Mexicans aged 75 and older, plus New Mexicans aged 16 and older with at least one chronic health condition that can exacerbate the effects of COVID-19 disease, which is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. 

Within the latter group, priority in appointments is being given to residents with chronic conditions who are 60 years and older

Allocation of vaccine to New Mexico continues to increase weekly, with 98,000 expected next week, Collins said, including 2,400 doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

The three vaccines have been approved under Emergency Use Authorizations by the federal Food and Drug Administration. 

More:How do I get a COVID-19 vaccine in New Mexico?

More than 740,000 New Mexicans have registered to be notified when vaccination is available for them, and Collins said interest in the inoculations has been increasing. She urged residents who have to register to do so online at www.VaccineNM.org. Telephone registration is also available by calling 855-600-3453 and selecting 0 followed by 4.

Statewide, 595,360 New Mexicans had received at least their initial dose, per DOH data, with 349,413 — 20.8 percent of its population — fully vaccinated.

DOH on distribution of vaccines

Deputy Health Secretary Laura Parajón provided an overview of the department's efforts to distribute vaccine equitably, based on communities disproportionately affected by the disease, prioritizing reducing fatalities and curbing communities.

But the main reason so many who have registered and continue to wait, Parajón said, is that demand far exceeds supply, with hundreds of thousands currently eligible. 

Addressing Doña Ana County, where local officials have complained about low allocations and resulting low vaccination rates, Parajón said this may have reflected disparities in the number of local vaccine providers.

People eligible for COVID vaccines line up in their cars on NMSU Campus in Las Cruces on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.

"Some people from the very, very start signed up to be providers" in other counties, she said, "and so that's kind of what skewed some areas to get more because initially there were a lot more providers in those areas."

Earlier this week, a spokesperson for the health department told the Las Cruces Sun-News that "some local providers weren’t distributing vaccine as aggressively as providers elsewhere," with elaborating further.

On Wednesday, however, health officials said the county "was doing great" at administering increased supplies of vaccines, which Parajón said has increased by 106 percent since February, with 12,000 or more doses arriving weekly.

"Bigger systems with more employed positions seem a little bit more ready to respond more quickly," state Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase offered, adding that there had been "excellent cooperation" with Memorial Medical Center and MountainView Regional Medical Center in Las Cruces.

Collins urged more county residents to sign up on the registry.

More:Eligible for COVID-19 vaccine, but haven't gotten a notice yet? Here's the process

The health officials noted that new shutdowns in Europe were taking place because public health measures mitigating community spread had been relaxed too much, too quickly, and they urged New Mexicans to continue wearing face masks in public, keeping distant from non-household members and avoiding large gatherings, along with washing hands frequently. 

Scrase said New Mexico's genomic surveillance was ranked high nationwide, and current data showed that nine cases of the highly infectious B117 variant of the coronavirus had been identified in the state but were believed to be well contained. Other well known variants of the disease had yet to be identified in New Mexico. 

Daily cases continued to decline across every region of the state, along with hospitalizations and deaths, with the state getting closer to its target of 168 average daily cases. As of March 11, that average was at 190. 

Los Alamos National Laboratory data calculated that vaccinations are now lowering daily incidence of COVID-19 infection by more than 60 percent. 

For residents who have been notified they could make an appointment, only to learn the available slots were taken by the time they responded, Parajón urged the public to keep trying, noting that those who respond but do not get an appointment will be prioritized in the system for future notifications. 

"We feel your frustration, too," she said. "We really want people vaccinated."

Doña Ana County led the state in daily cases reported Wednesday, with 77 new cases reported. Daily case reports are subject to adjustments, however, with local reopening decisions based on 14-day rolling averages. The county's cumulative total of cases is 23,400. 

The county also reported the death of a male county resident in his 90s, the county's 409th fatality from the disease.

Algernon D'Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, adammassa@lcsun-news.com or @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.