NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Most southeast New Mexico counties are now under the state’s “turquoise” reopening rules, but the region also has some of the state’s lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates. That could be a big problem in the coming weeks as vaccinations are a key component of New Mexico’s newly revised reopening rules.
The latest map shows Chaves County (Roswell) is currently the only “yellow” county in New Mexico, in part because it’s short of the state’s target vaccination rate. For the two-week stretch starting Wednesday, May 4, the state’s target vaccination rate is set at 40% of the adult population, 16 and over.
As of Wednesday, Chaves County had just a 31% vaccination rate among adults. Chaves is not alone in the vaccination struggle, as five other southeast counties are lagging behind the 40% target.
“DOH will be taking some trips to go down there and we’re setting up more access to vaccine,” said Dr. Tracie Collins, Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health. “The onus is really with us as well, but also, we want to encourage residents in the southeast that you really should get registered, you need to get your vaccine.”
Chaves, Lea, Eddy, Otero, Roosevelt, and De Baca are all among southeast New Mexico counties that have vaccination rates of nearly 36 percent or less of the adult population, age 16 and over. While the state is currently targeting a 40% adult vaccination rate, an additional 5% will be added to the vaccination target every two weeks.
The “fully vaccinated” rate will ultimately continue to play a role in re-opening until New Mexico hits a rate of 60% fully vaccinated amongst the state’s entire population age 16 and older. Vaccination rates are one of three factors that make up the state’s color-coded “red to turquoise” reopening system.
What’s behind southeast New Mexico’s lower vaccination rates isn’t clearly understood, so far. New Mexico state health officials say it is possible that many people in the region have received a COVID-19 vaccine in a neighboring state like Texas or Arizona.
That out-of-state vaccination data wouldn’t automatically show up in New Mexico’s system. The New Mexico Department of Health says it’s working with at least one Texas medical partner to try to get numbers on how many New Mexicans have been vaccinated there. The NMDOH believes federal vaccination data so far indicates there is a “single-digit percentage” of New Mexicans who have been vaccinated out of state.
However, the New Mexico Department of Health is also telling New Mexicans to let them know if they got a shot out of state. To do that, state officials say people should register their name and information on the state’s cvvaccine.nmhealth.org website.
“That’s a really easy way to bring county vaccinations up,” said Dr. David Scrase, Secretary of the New Mexico Human Services Department. “To identify (in the New Mexico state vaccine portal) those people who’ve gotten the vaccine elsewhere.”
During a Wednesday news conference, New Mexico health officials downplayed the idea of political divisions being a reason for lower vaccination rates in the southeast part of the state. Voter registration data from the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office shows there are far more Republicans than Democrats registered in each of those counties.
Lastly, NMDOH Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins pointed to both current U.S. President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump being vaccinated.