Guadalupe County's small population worked to its advantage early this year when it managed to vaccinate nearly a quarter of its adults and adolescents in one day.
Widely Varying County-By-County
Scheduling people alphabetically and by coronavirus risk groups, local hospital staffers and emergency medical technicians teamed up on a Saturday in January at Santa Rosa High School to inject about 800 county residents, plus others from outside the county.
“It was an incredible community event,” Guadalupe County Hospital administrator Christina Campos said. “It was one of those events that we were pinching ourselves” by the end.
Roosevelt County Commissioner Rodney Savage said he plans to get two doses of the vaccine. But many people in his area cringe at mask mandates, business closures and being told to get shots during the pandemic, he said.
“I think that a lot of people resent the Democrat governor,” Savage said of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has led efforts to keep New Mexico residents masked and cautious during the pandemic.
The state Department of Health says Lujan Grisham's efforts are one reason New Mexico is at the top of the nation in the percentage of its population vaccinated, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Wall Street Journal. The state also has said it could vaccinate more people if not for a limited supply of doses.
Savage, a 73-year-old who switched to the Republican Party a couple of years ago, said some in his county are “turned off” by the vaccinations. They fear it will give them bad side effects, he said. Further, he said, “I believe it is somewhat political.” He said he spoke only for himself and not for the County Commission.
Robert O. Sandoval, a commissioner in Curry County, said he is proud to be fully vaccinated.
“Masks work and shots work,” the 84-year-old Democrat said. “But there's still an awful lot of politics with this.”
He said there are “a lot of people that believe what President [Donald] Trump told them.”
Trump, a Republican who was beaten by Democrat Joe Biden in November, advocated limiting government intervention and aggressively reopening businesses during the pandemic. Trump often went maskless but quietly got his coronavirus shots and recently encouraged others to get theirs.
An ongoing project by the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that 75 percent of Democrats have received a vaccine or want to, compared with 41 percent of Republicans. Differences in vaccine acceptance were minimal when comparing urban, suburban and rural residents.
Of the top four counties in New Mexico in percentage of residents who have received a shot, three went for Biden in November. Of the bottom four, all favored Trump, state records show.
Size also matters.
Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said her organization soon will analyze county vaccination rates in the United States. Tolbert said the study will examine those rates by socioeconomic status, race, political affiliation, age and other factors.
She stopped short of tying the differences to politics because the study hasn't been done yet. “I don't have any evidence of that right now,” she said, adding politics “may be playing into” the disparities.
Other factors, she said, include availability of vaccination sites, how doses go out to the counties, numbers of vaccinators available and “vaccine hesitancy” — a fear of getting it or a lack of motivation to do so.
Matt Propp, emergency management director of Torrance County, said local leaders recently made a decision that will improve its ranking among counties in the state. As of late last week, state data indicated Torrance County, at 25 percent of its population vaccinated, had one of the lowest rates in New Mexico.
Propp said the county has decided to use Moriarty High School as its central vaccination place because it has more gym space and parking than the high schools in Estancia and Mountainair.
And on Wednesday, he said, vaccinators administered 1,700 shots from Moriarty, which will lift the county's percentage when the state calculates it again. He said the state also has provided more doses to Torrance County than it did in the early stages of the vaccine rollout.
Vaccine supply on rare occasions exceeds demand. At a clinic Thursday at Santa Fe Indian School, administrators ended up with more doses than tribal members seeking shots. So it opened the clinic to the community at large and distributed the remaining 200 doses, said Keith Adcock of Santa Fe Indian Hospital, which is operated by the federal Indian Health Service.
Doses administered through federal programs, including the Indian Health Service, aren't included in the state Department of Health's county-based data on vaccinations. The department also hasn't included people who traveled out of state for shots — though it has been encouraging people to report on its vaccine registration website if they have been inoculated elsewhere.
By some counts, scores or even hundreds of Santa Feans have traveled to Texas and Colorado for vaccinations. Others have obtained excess shots at area pueblos. As of Saturday, 42.8 percent of Santa Fe County residents 16 and older had received at least their first shot. That number would be higher, however, if people who received doses outside the state's distribution were included.
Guadalupe County last week stood at the top of New Mexico's counties in its distribution of vaccine. But for a while this month, the county landed on the bottom as “very high risk” in other measures tied to the spread of the coronavirus. A few cases can make a big difference in a little county.
“It's very frustrating,” said Ben Rael, emergency manager for the county. “We watch the numbers.” Overall, Rael said, the county has run a good program.
“The community wanted this,” he said. “Everybody came together as a team.”
Robert and Mary Cordova, 80 and 79, respectively, went to the vaccination clinic in January. Cordova, a retired businessman in Guadalupe County, said they showed up at the high school at about 7:45 a.m. and received their injections soon after.
“I was very proud of the way the whole thing was handled,” he said. “I don't think we waited five minutes.”
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