NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Calling it a “tough time for New Mexico,” the state’s acting Department of Health Secretary said Wednesday said the state is continuing to see a high number of new COVID-19 cases while highlighting data believes shows waning immunity among the vaccinated. As cases continue to surge, ICUs at hospitals around the state are at capacity with just eight ICU beds available across New Mexico.
During the latest COVID-19 trends update Wednesday, while acknowledging the change of a breakthrough infection being “very low,” New Mexico health leaders released data showing the average amount of time for a vaccine breakthrough case in New Mexico is 163 days.
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“What we’re learning is people start becoming more likely to get a vaccine breakthrough infection at about five and a half months,” Dr. David Scrase said Wednesday. “Immunity does wane, we’re seeing it in our data, and what this means for us is we all need to start getting in line to get a booster.”
The highlight on waning immunity comes as the state reported 1,337 new COVID-19 cases and 13 additional deaths Wednesday. According to a report published Monday, November 8, New Mexico reported 8,254 new COVID-19 cases in the week prior. That’s about a 2,000 case increase compared to the week prior, where 6,656 cases were reported between October 26 and November 1, according to an NMDOH report.
While discussing COVID-19 immunity and breakthrough cases, Dr. Scrase said the chances of breakthrough cases remain low, between 1.5 and 2.5%. “Out of 1,000 people who are vaccinated, only 15 to 25 will get a breakthrough infection,” Dr. Scrase said.
Waning immunity was among the highlights of Wednesday’s conversation as health officials hoped to explain why New Mexico continues to see a high number of cases while the state has one of the most fully-vaccinated populations amongst other states. The New York Times highlighted the situation in an article Wednesday titled, “Cases rise sharply in New Mexico despite a relatively strong inoculation rate.”
Of New Mexico’s entire population, 60.4% of people are considered fully vaccinated. Adding in the partially vaccinated, around 69.5% of New Mexicans have received at least one dose of a COVID-vaccine. The state believes 30.5% of New Mexicans are unvaccinated against COVID-19.
“The progress is good but there’s still groups of people who are getting sick with COVID spreading the virus among the whole state,” NMDOH Deputy Director Dr. Laura Parajón said Wednesday. “Knowing that there are people who are unvaccinated, it’s still driving higher case rates.”
A recent state vaccination report shows from February 2021 through present day, New Mexico’s saw 22,041 confirmed COVID cases among the vaccinated, compared to 90,373 confirmed COVID cases among the unvaccinated. Of those cases, 5,775 unvaccinated people were hospitalized compared to 1,004 hospitalizations among the vaccinated.
New Mexico’s vaccination report published on November 8 shows since February 2021, 1,133 unvaccinated people have died of COVID-19. Of the vaccinated, 93 people have died since February 2021.
Meanwhile, the push to vaccinate children ages 5 to 11 continues in New Mexico, where 188,000 kids are now eligible for Pfizer’s vaccine. According to the NMDOH, as of Tuesday, about one-thousand kids, or fewer than 1%, have gotten their first COVID vaccine shot.
Among the other factors driving COVID cases in New Mexico, Dr. Scrase highlighted the rapid spread of the Delta variant and reduced compliance with COVID-safe practices. The state is expected to extend the public health order and indoor mask mandate later this week.
“One the case rate gets below ten (cases) per 100,000 (people,) we’ll take another look at that – I think we’re at 66 (cases per 100,000 people) today,” so more than six times the level,” Dr. Scrase said. “We do plan to renew the indoor masking in the public health order.”