GUADALUPE COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines looks different in rural counties with it being done much quicker than in metro areas. The Guadalupe County Hospital said as of now, it’s the only vaccine distributor in the county. While the state is officially in phase 1A vaccinating healthcare workers, Guadalupe County Hospital said it’s blending the phases to avoid wasting any vaccine.

“Basically, we expanded into the next phase because that first phase was covered so fast,” Christina Campos, Administrator at Guadalupe County Hospital, said. “So, we started going out to what are the most high touch, high interaction, places we need to reach out to,” Campos said. It’s frontline healthcare workers were all vaccinated after the first shipment of 50 doses of the Pfizer vaccine about three weeks ago.

“We only had about 35 employees that either qualified for the vaccine or were here for the days that we were issuing the vaccine or had not had COVID in the last 90 days. So, what we did is after we did hospital-employed staff, we did the doctors and the nurse practitioners who are independent practitioners, then we did the staff at their clinic. Their clinic is co-located at the hospital so there’s a lot of interaction with their staff and our staff. So, we made sure their frontline staff were covered immediately. So, that took up the 50 doses,” Campos said.

She said then, they started reaching out to essential workers like the staff at the one grocery store in town and at convenience stores. “For example, we only have one grocery store in town. So, everybody goes to that grocery store and if we were to get an infection there and our store would close, that would prohibit anybody from buying groceries here in town for a period of time. So, we knew they were incredibly important to vaccinate.”

However, the prioritization raised some red flags. Staffers with the city of Santa Rosa said the prioritization seemed ‘off’ since some grocery store employees were getting vaccinated before city first responders. But Campos said the hospital did reach out to the city for a list of first responders and didn’t hear back.

“So, we reached out to the director of EMS and they sent four. We reached out to the PD they sent one or two. The following week we got more. And we’ve told them, just keep sending them to us,” Campos said. While they move on to other groups of people, Campos said they still get some healthcare workers or first responders that may have new availability or have changed their mind to get the vaccine.

Because of some cancellations or even people changing their minds to not get the vaccine, Campos said sometimes at the end of a day, they have to decide quickly who should get a vaccine just to avoid wasting it.

“Once you add the dilutant to the vaccine, you only have so many hours to use it…You see a lot of blending of the stages just to accommodate the timeline and get people here as fast as we possibly can,” she said. “It’s 5 p.m., we got this vaccine, we cannot waste it. Who do we call?”

Campos called the entire rollout ‘incredibly challenging.’ “The huge challenge is prioritization. And so, it presents a lot of moral dilemmas of is a 75-year-old higher risk than a 50-year-old with a high BMI and diabetes? I don’t know how you weigh that,” she said. Campos said the hospital is working closely with the state surrounding those decisions and the rollout of the vaccines.

According to Campos, first responders including all fire departments in the county, postal workers, and utility workers have had the opportunity to get vaccinated. She said the hospital is expected to receive 195 vials of the Pfizer vaccine on Friday and will use it to vaccinate elderly patients and continue its vaccination of teachers.

The Guadalupe County Correctional Facility reported 250 positive COVID-19 cases on January 6, according to state data. A spokesperson with the Department of Corrections said its vaccinations are through the Department Of Health and its employees will get vaccinated by its own medical staff when available.

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