ALBUQUERQUE – Going a step beyond federal guidance, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday that she believes being fully vaccinated means three shots and she pushed for all adults in her state who are eligible to get their boosters.
She made the comments during a virtual pandemic briefing, citing the increasing number of COVID-19 infections among residents who received their vaccinations more than six months ago.
Some cities and states already allow all adults to get boosters of Pfizer’s vaccine, but it is not yet official U.S. policy. In the last week, California, New Mexico, Arkansas, West Virginia and Colorado expanded the shots to all adults. New York City made a similar move.
State health officials have been concerned about waning immunity and the role it has played in the recent increase in cases. The latest state data shows nearly 29% of infections confirmed over the last four weeks were among the vaccinated. Still, unvaccinated people make up higher percentages of those who are hospitalized or die from the virus.
The Democratic governor, who is running for re-election, blamed the unvaccinated for the ongoing pandemic but later acknowledged that the vaccinated can also contract and spread the virus. She said those who do often have only mild symptoms and don’t end up in the hospital.
“We know vaccinations are the most effective tool to both blunting the spread of the virus and to protecting ourself and our families,” she said. “So 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.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said discussions are underway about changing the definition of what it means to be fully vaccinated and that he expects a new public health order to be rolled out in the coming weeks.
That will mean some policy changes for hospitals and state agencies because Lujan Grisham already has mandated vaccinations for health care workers, educators, other school personnel and all state workers.
Some employers, such as Los Alamos National Laboratory, also imposed mandates in recent months for workers to be “fully vaccinated.”
Officials said it’s still too early to say whether COVID-19 vaccinations will be required for school children. They’re expecting more data on children to be available by the summer that could help in the decision-making process.
Scrase said many health care workers already were in line when boosters were announced so he’s confident the rate of uptake among that group will be high. He also noted that those workers who got vaccinated at the last minute to keep their jobs would have at least another six months to consider getting boosters – or two months if they received the Johnson & Johnson shot.
Nearly 74% of New Mexico adults are considered fully vaccinated under the current definition. Data released during the briefing showed more than 292,000 booster doses have been administered in the state since Aug. 1. Officials said that puts New Mexico’s administration of boosters ahead of the national average.
The U.S. recommends boosters for people who initially received their second Pfizer or Moderna shots at least six months ago if they’re 65 or older or are at high risk of COVID-19 because of health problems or their job or living conditions. Boosters are also recommended for people who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago.
Officials said Lujan Grisham made the decision this week to make boosters accessible to all adults because the state is considered “high risk” given the rates of spread being reported statewide. In two counties – De Baca and San Juan – more than 22% of tests during the past two weeks were positive.
State officials also vowed not to let up with testing, saying it’s a valuable tool that helps with tracking the virus.