SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – After canceling a few major vaccination clinics for teachers and educators this week, the Department of Health is trying to clarify who’s available to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Meanwhile, health officials are also looking at medical providers to do a better job in “knowing and following” the state’s plans.
Days after an attempt to get Albuquerque Public Schools educators vaccinated, Rio Rancho Public Schools announced cancelation Thursday of its planned mass vaccination event for teachers and staff. The clinic was supposed to take place Friday and Saturday, vaccinating nearly 2,000 people.
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While teachers and educators are part of the Phase 1B vaccine group, there’s an order within that group of who gets vaccinated first. In a statement released by the DOH Friday, the department reiterated that it is not the teacher’s turn yet.
A handful of educators protested the cancelation in front of V. Sue Cleveland High School Friday morning, expressing disappointment with the Department of Health. “We were extremely disappointed,” said Cindy Apodaca, a therapist for Rio Rancho Public Schools. “(We) felt really betrayed that (the vaccine clinic) got pulled out from underneath us.”
Reiterating who is eligible to receive vaccinations, the DOH released the following list Friday:
- Hospital personnel
- Residents and staff of long-term care facilities
- Medical first responders
- Congregate setting workers
- Persons providing direct medical care and other in-person services
- Home-based health care and hospice workers
- People 75+
- People 16+ at risk of COVID complications
“No other groups are eligible at this time,” DOH Communications Director Matt Beiber wrote in a prepared statement Friday. “As vaccine supply becomes more available, DOH will announce additional categories of eligibility.”
So how did the educator clinics get scheduled in the first place? The DOH says it’s in part their fault. The department says a staff member erroneously told school staff that the clinics could take place as teachers are included with the 1B phasing. However, the DOH is also putting the blame in part on health care providers responsible for organizing the vaccination clinics and not paying closer attention to who’s eligible right now.
“DOH needs to communicate clearly, consistently, and repeatedly about the state’s vaccination plan,” wrote DOH Secretary-Designate Dr. Tracie Collins in Friday’s statement. “But providers and other entities are also responsible for knowing – and following – that plan. That’s how we ensure that our limited supply of vaccine doses go to those who are most exposed or vulnerable to COVID-19. That’s how we save the most lives.”
Some of the vaccination issues may stem from the behind-the-scenes part of the state’s vaccine web-system. According to DOH, that system currently allows medical providers to create vaccination events without anything to automatically stop them from inviting low-priority New Mexicans to get a shot. While that system has information about New Mexicans occupations, DOH says it is up to medical providers to verify that they’re inviting, booking, and inoculating the proper registrants. “I feel like it’s a gut punch to educators in New Mexico, I mean whether you’re virtual or in-person like Rio Rancho Schools is, it’s a gut punch.”
While the state says it’s now doubling efforts to make the vaccine order clear, they’ve also used a simplified graphic to indicate Phase 1b recipients. The detailed list of vaccine recipients, organized by priority is listed online in a report titled, “State of New Mexico COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Plan Phases 1A, 1B, 1C, and 2.”
The DOH also says providers are not all being required to use their vaccine registry system. About 80 percent of the state’s medical providers are using the system, while roughly 20% are using their own methods of choosing who to vaccinate. All medical providers offering vaccinations are required to provide information about who they’re vaccinating to the state and the federal government.
In response to questions about the county-by-county distribution of vaccines in New Mexico and questions surrounding providers use of the online vaccine registration portal, Department of Health spokesman Matt Beiber provided the following statement to KRQE News 13 on Friday afternoon:
DOH is redoubling its communication efforts to ensure that the press, public, and providers all understand exactly how the phased vaccination schedule works – including who is eligible for vaccination at this time. We also expect providers to know – and follow – those requirements. We understand that there has been some confusion, and we are working very hard – through an updated website, press releases, press conferences, and upcoming communications opportunities between DOH and providers – to ensure that all New Mexicans have the information they need.
Like states across America, we are still ramping up our data reporting systems. This is a complex operation involving hundreds of providers, many of whom are new to the kinds of reporting requirements and other logistics involved in this effort. When we are able to report more granular data, we will do so.Matt Beiber, Communications Director, New Mexico Department of Health