ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) is ramping up efforts to doll out omicron-related COVID-19 booster shots recently authorized by federal health officials. Unlike the initial rollout of COVID vaccination, the state says this time it has ample supply available.
NMDOH says it has received 35,000 doses of the new omicron-based COVID vaccine. So far, 7,324 of those doses have been given to New Mexicans. The state is recommending that everyone who is at least two months removed from a primary vaccination series or booster dose receive the latest omicron-related booster. Pfizer doses are eligible for those ages 12 and older, while Moderna doses are available for those 18 and older.
“While the jury is still out on this, I think we’re seeing some movement to what we talked about back [in summer and fall of 2020], to more of a flu shot-like approach to the coronavirus where hopefully we get an annual booster,” Dr. Scrase said. “Similarities including the fact that this new booster for omicron is patterned and made off of omicron B5, which is far and away the prevailing strain in New Mexico right now.”
In terms of getting shots in arms, NMDOH Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase said in a news conference Thursday that the state is continuing to lean on New Mexico’s existing pharmacies and medical practices to be the top distributor for the new vaccines. The state is not planning to help coordinate extensive vaccination clinics for all age groups, so far.
However, the state is coordinating a large effort to vaccinate the elderly populations over the next two months. Residents inside nursing homes, assisted living and other long-term care facilities can expect to see COVID and flu shot clinics soon, particularly in rural areas.
Over the next six weeks, The New Mexico Aging and Longterm Services Department (NM ALTSD) anticipates going to hundreds of facilities to give out omicron-based COVID boosters and flu shots. That includes 236 assisted living facilities and 67 nursing facilities and 200 senior sites.
“Senior centers are another area that they’re working on simultaneously,” said Secretary Katrina Hotrum-Lopez of NM ALTSD. “We are going to get drive-thru clinics scheduled again … you do not have to be a member of a senior center to participate in this vaccine program, all you need to do is register and show up.”
Any seniors who need help registering, NM ALTSD says to call 1-800-432-2800. The state says it will start in rural areas of the state, then work toward the metro area, where Hotrum-Lopez says there “seems to be more access [in the metro-area] than there is in rural, remote areas.”
The latest New Mexico Public Health Order doesn’t require for staff and residents to be vaccinated. However, the state is requiring that staff and residents need to be offered and continuously educated on the vaccine.
Since the NMDOH’s last news conference on COVID case trends in early August, the number of newly reported COVID cases has appeared to trend down. A state report published on Monday, September 12 indicates 1,657 new COVID infections reported in the prior seven days, between September 6 and 12.
During Thursday’s news conference, Dr. Scrase said that the state appears to be “getting over the BA5” case surge. Roughly 90% of New Mexico’s cases are related to the BA5 omicron variant.
“The state looks pretty green,” Dr. Scrase said, referring to a CDC map of cases, which has green representing a lower level of community spread, as opposed to yellow and red. “I think one of the things to remind ourselves is the things that’s really the most different about the wave that goes from May  to September  is we’re probably seeing only about a quarter of the cases of COVID.”
Dr. Scrase, in part, attributed the lower case count to home tests, which are seldom reported. The state also doesn’t factor home testing results in the formal case reporting.
Hospitalizations are also continuing to trend downward. As of Thursday, Dr. Scrase said only 84 people remain in New Mexico hospitals with COVID-19. That’s the lowest the state has been since mid-May 2022. Six people were reportedly on ventilators, which is roughly 7.1% of the hospitalizations.
“The BA5 strain of COVID seems much, much less lethal than previous strains, much lower, mortality rate,” Dr. Scrase. “Total deaths are now approaching the 85-hundred mark, we still have people dying almost every day from COVID in our state, there are still many vulnerable New Mexicans that we need to take into consideration as we make our personal decisions.”
Monkeypox, West Nile and Polio
The state health officials also used Thursday’s news conference to update the status of three other serious health conditions they’re watching: monkeypox, the West Nile virus and polio.
In the realm of monkeypox, in early August, NMDOH said it had registered 10 know cases of the disease. As of today, the state had registered 33 known monkeypox infections. Vaccinations are available for those who are considered at high risk of exposure, or who have had a known exposure.
The state mentioned its continually monitoring for polio, as a case recently emerged in Rockland County, New York. Polio hasn’t been seen in New York for roughly a decade.
In New Mexico, no cases of polio have been reported. NMDOH Deputy Director Dr. Laura Parajón spoke of the importance to get vaccinated against polio Thursday, while also noting that some vaccination levels have dropped in New Mexico since the pandemic began in 2020.
“We [New Mexico] rank number seven [of the 50 states] for polio vaccine coverage in the U.S.,” Parajón said. “If you didn’t get vaccinated as a kid, you can still get vaccinated as an adult, so it’s good time to get vaccinated against polio.”
The West Nile Virus has also been reported in New Mexico. So far, three confirmed cases in humans have been reported in the state. At least one animal has also reportedly contracted a confirmed case of West Nile.
Symptoms of West Nile virus include fever, headache, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue and a skin rash. “It’s not that common, but mostly people who are older and have underlying conditions can actually get West Nile virus,” Parajón said.