COVID-19 vaccine supplies increase, but waiting line remains long for Doña Ana County residents

New Mexico passes 500,000 doses administered

Algernon D'Ammassa
Las Cruces Sun-News

This story has been updated with additional information from the New Mexico Department of Health.

LAS CRUCES – New Mexico can boast of being in the top three states nationwide for rolling out COVID-19 vaccinations, having administered more than 500,000 doses as of Monday.

The half-million figure does not even account for 141,880 doses that have been received by three federal agencies in New Mexico: the Bureau of Prisons, Indian Health Services and Veterans Administration. 

Still, the wait seems long for residents waiting their turn to be vaccinated.

New Mexico Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins, confirmed last Friday by the New Mexico Senate, announced that 16.5 percent of New Mexico residents had received at least the first of two doses, with 8 percent having received both.

As of Tuesday, 174,888 New Mexicans had been fully vaccinated, per the health department.

“Thanks to a first-in-the-nation registration system and a dedicated network of health care providers and volunteers across our state, we are vaccinating our population extraordinarily quickly," she said. 

More: COVID-19 vaccine supplies slowly increase as New Mexicans wait for shots

In Doña Ana County, 22,928 people were at least partially vaccinated per DOH reporting. That is the third-highest number of shots out of New Mexico's 33 counties (trailing Bernalillo County's 101,392 and San Juan County's 26,392).

Just 13.3 percent of Doña Ana County residents had received at least one dose while 6.7 percent fully vaccinated.

COVID vaccines are distributed on NMSU Campus in Las Cruces on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.

The count changed two weeks ago, right around the time the health department announced an impending change in how it was reporting vaccination numbers.

Due to a coding error, the health department had been reporting vaccinations based on the location but not where the recipient lived. This led to inaccurate county-level reporting as, for example, if a Luna County resident was vaccinated in Doña Ana County.

Shifting vaccination into higher gear

After local officials inquired as to whether Doña Ana County was receiving its fair share of vaccines earlier this month, the DOH's chief medical officer, Dr. Thomas Massaro, wrote to state Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces: "In communities where providers and hospitals have aggressively marketed vaccinations, the uptake has been higher. Across the state, those communities which have administered more vaccines have requested and received larger allocations."

More: Most Doña Ana County first responders vaccinated following manager's order

What are the local steps that would help accelerate vaccinations? The major limiting factor, though not the only one, is that there simply isn't enough vaccine to give to everyone all at once. 

Manufacturers of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the two that have been approved for emergency use while full FDA approval is pending, told the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Tuesday that production of vaccine was increasing, expressing optimism that supply would meet demand during the summer. 

A third vaccine under development by Johnson & Johnson — which requires only a single dose — could receive emergency use authorization early in March, increasing available vaccine supplies even further. 

But there is still a need for personnel to administer all those shots as well as volunteers helping to manage the events. 

"The limiting factors are twofold," wrote Benjamin Woods, a spokesman for MountainView Regional Medical Center in Las Cruces. "First is the availability of the vaccine. Second is the availability of the proper workforce to deliver those properly."

Dr. K.C. Banda is inoculated with Pfizer's recently-approved COVID-19 vaccine at MountainView Regional Medical Center in Las Cruces on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.

Woods said the county's Office of Emergency Management was in the process of applying for a regional grant to help fund additional personnel, in anticipation of greater supplies. 

Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces did not answer questions about its vaccination efforts.

The OEM coordinates with the health department, but is not itself a provider and does not receive or store vaccine supplies. The county confirmed Tuesday it was applying for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency "for a variety of needs related to the COVID-19 vaccine."

"We continue to work closely with local hospitals, OEM, New Mexico DOH and other organizations to support our communities, throughout Doña Ana County," county spokesperson Luce Rubio said. 

Another local partner is New Mexico State University, which began hosting drive-thru vaccine events on its Las Cruces campus in January, and has since offered space at Doña Ana Community College's East Mesa campus as well. 

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Jon Webster, NMSU's COVID-19 project manager, said: "One of the big reasons we did the drive-thru — and it lends itself to the phase that we're in right now — is there are people out there with mobility issues."

The line for vaccine is still long

New Mexico is proceeding with vaccinations in a phased approach that began in December with frontline medical workers, first responders and staff and residents of long-term care facilities. It has since expanded to residents aged 75 and older, or residents 16 and older with chronic health conditions that may exacerbate the effects of COVID-19 disease. 

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

Altogether, the subgroups currently eligible for vaccinations make up nearly 800,000 people. With a cumulative 506,384 doses administered, that means people who have signed up on the state's COVID-19 vaccine registry are in an eligible subgroup are still effectively waiting in line with hundreds of thousands of people. 

And supplies remain constrained for the time being. This week, New Mexico anticipated a shipment of 72,510 doses, representing a substantial increase over previous weekly allotments.

Extreme winter weather around the United States the past week led to some delays in shipments and postponed vaccination events, DOH spokesman Matt Bieber confirmed, saying it would "represent a momentary blip in our vaccine distribution efforts."

At her confirmation hearing, Collins also stated, as she has at recent news conferences, that the health department would like to add approved vaccine providers in smaller New Mexico communities and areas serving the most vulnerable populations. 

On Tuesday, however, the DOH maintained there was not a shortage of providers, but rather of vaccine supply: "Our local and statewide network of providers have the capacity to handle much more vaccine and complete many more vaccinations than we currently have the supply," the department said through a spokesman.

The Las Cruces public health office recently installed a freezer for the storage of the Pfizer vaccine, which must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures. The health department said its capacity to hold weekly allotments of vaccine for Las Cruces "has plenty of room to store more" as more supplies become available. 

Webster said that NMSU had ample space to welcome larger vaccination events, when the local public health office musters more supply and personnel. 

"We're offering just about everything we can to help with that, to make it push more people and do what we can for the community," he said. 

To register for a vaccine in New Mexico, visit or call 1-855-600-3453.

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

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