NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – As the number of COVID-19 continues to tick up in New Mexico, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham pleaded with New Mexicans Wednesday to get a booster vaccine dose and to vaccinate kids to further prevent the spread of the virus. The plea comes as the state reported more than 1,500 new cases on Wednesday with 539 people hospitalized in the state with the virus.
Gov. Lujan Grisham’s rare appearance in Wednesday’s news conference marks the first time she’s addressed the pandemic alongside health officials since July 2021, when the state relaxed its color-coded, county-by-county reopening criteria. Last Friday, the governor signed an executive order, opening booster shot eligibility to all New Mexicans 18 and older amid high rates of viral transmission.
Week over week, COVID case numbers continue on an upward trend in New Mexico. A state report publish Monday, November 15, 2021, indicates New Mexico charted 9,720 new COVID-19 cases in the week prior. That’s about 1,500 more cases than the week prior, where New Mexico saw 8,254 cases between November 2 and November 8.
“Because we were so early, that six months where immunity starts to wane, means that we’re more susceptible, potentially, to that virus as its moving, particularly Delta, because it’s a much more infectious variant of COVID-19,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “The more often this virus circulate, not just here but around the globe, the more these issues will continue to be a challenge for all of us.”
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Redefining “Fully Vaccinated”
State leaders highlighted data suggesting vaccinated New Mexicans are beginning to see waning immunity during a recent news conference. Wednesday, Gov. Lujan Grisham suggested a change to the definition of what it means to be “fully vaccinated” against COVID-19.
“We know that vaccinations are the most effective tool to both blunting the spread of the virus and to protecting our self and our families,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “We are analyzing what we can do to create those incentives and potentially mandates for making sure that people are fully vaccinated which means three vaccines.”
In mentioning “three vaccines,” the governor did not clarify the differences between Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA-based vaccines and Johnson and Johnson’s adenovirus vaccine. Those vaccines carry different dosage regimens, with the mRNA COVID vaccines requiring two-initial doses with a third dose currently being recognized as a “booster” for all but the immunocompromised. Meanwhile, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine which requires a single-initial dose and a second dose is considered a booster.
The New Mexico Department of Health’s Acting Secretary Dr. David Scrase elaborated on the idea of reassessing the term “fully vaccinated,” with consideration that a third-shot would be a part of a required regimen for those receiving the currently available mRNA vaccines.
“It is under discussion now,” Dr. Scrase said. “We’re trying to decide what would a revised definition of full immunity be for the state of New Mexico, we should have more information for you next time.”
Boosters and Vaccinations
So far, more than 292,000 booster doses have gone out to New Mexicans between August 1 and November 17. Deputy Director for NMDOH, Dr. Laura Parajón said Wednesday New Mexican is around 13th place in the ranks of states who’ve doled out the most booster shots.
“We have to do more,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said Wednesday, speaking broadly about vaccinations and booster shots. “We can’t just be in top five, be way above the national average for vaccine penetration, you know, we have to lead the nation because we owe it to our health care workers, we owe it to our families, we owe it to our communities, we owe it to our business and most importantly we owe it to the folks who can’t be vaccinated because either they’re too young or they have underlying conditions that don’t allow them to be vaccinated.”
Vaccines for kids are also picking up in speed, with more than 10,022 doses administered in the first week of availability, starting November 8, 2021. The number of total doses administered so far is about 6% above the state’s target. Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for use in kids ages 5 to 11. The vaccine is administered in two doses, three weeks apart. Children are considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after their second dose.
State health officials also highlighted the high number of patients admitted to New Mexico’s hospitals with COVID-19. As of Wednesday, 539 people were admitted to hospital care with COVID-19, while six different facilities have now declared “crisis standards of care” status, including Presbyterian and UNMH in Albuquerque.
The majority of New Mexico’s hospitalizations remain for patients who are unvaccinated. Between October 18 and November 15, New Mexico reported 1,148 hospitalizations of unvaccinated patients compared to 301 vaccinated patients. 109 COVID-related deaths were reported in that time period of unvaccinated people, compared to just 10 deaths due to COVID-19 among the vaccinated.
As of Tuesday, 10 ICU beds were available in New Mexico, while 72 medical and surgical beds were available. Dr. Scrase says the state is continuing to transfer about 40 to 80 people per week out of state for medical care while taking in just two to three people to New Mexico for hospital care.
State health officials are unlikely to call a weekly news conference next week, as the Thanksgiving holiday hits on Thursday.