NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Some frontline healthcare workers continue to line up in New Mexico to get the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. On Tuesday, the state’s newly-appointed Health Secretary answered questions about what this could mean for next year.

While state health officials are hopeful this is the beginning of the end, there are two key questions people won’t know the answer to for some time. First, how many people will take the vaccine? And how long will the protection last?

“Today we begin to turn the tide, protecting ourselves in our communities, and moving past this terrible virus toward a brighter day,” said Dr. Tracie Collins, New Mexico Health Secretary-Designate.

During her second official day on the job, the newly-appointed Health Secretary addressed New Mexico’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans. “While the vaccine prevents COVID infection, we’re still learning whether it prevents transmission,” said Dr. Collins.

Frontline healthcare workers considered high-risk for infection from more than 30 hospitals around the state, are the first to receive the initial 17,550 doses from Pfizer.

“I’m really enthusiastic about starting a trend so that we can end this pandemic,” Dominick Armijo, Nurse Manager at Christus St. Vincent, told KRQE News 13. Armijo was one of the first five New Mexicans to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and gave a thumbs up to the cameras after inoculation.

Dr. Collins said one of the biggest challenges she foresees will be making sure as many people are vaccinated as possible. And with a limited supply, uncertainty around transmission, and how long protection will last, Dr. Collins repeated a caution to New Mexicans.

“Even after getting vaccinated, we need everyone to continue to wear masks and follow COVID-safe practices,” said Dr. Collins. “This is a very important point and bears repeating.”

Since COVID-19 vaccines are under emergency use authorization from the FDA, hospitals won’t require employees to take the vaccine.

UNM Health Sciences receives first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine

On Tuesday, University of New Mexico Health Sciences received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines. UNMH is anticipating approximately 1500 initial doses in the first round.

A spokesperson for Presbyterian Healthcare Services said they’re anticipating nearly 4,000 doses this week. Presbyterian plans to begin vaccinating its frontline workers on Thursday.

State data shows so far, confirmed COVID cases account for just over 5% of New Mexico’s population. Health experts say we may need 65-70% of the population to have some immunity against the virus for life to return to normal. “We’re all exhausted. So what I’m hopeful for is in one year we’ll have more than 70% of our state vaccinated, that we will have a good response to the vaccine,” said Dr. Collins.

Dr. Collins also express concern about a post-holiday surge in cases after the New Year. “I’m hoping that New Mexicans really consider that we’re in the home stretch, and that yes, this is a holiday that we love to spend with family, but this is not the time to have large gatherings or to mingle with those outside of your home,” she said.

The DOH Secretary said the state will provide updates on how many New Mexicans are vaccinated as we go along, and they’ll use both federal and state guidelines to determine who gets vaccinated first.

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