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Tierna Unruh-Enos is the managing editor and associate publisher at The Paper.

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Reports that several area hospitals have started to receive the COVID-19 vaccine this week portend the rollout of the controversial, yet hopeful endgame of our country’s COVID-19 response. While the majority of this first round of the vaccine is intended for health care professionals, a spring rollout for the rest of us is on the horizon.

State health officials outlined their preliminary plan in October, addressing the complex nature of releasing a vaccine that has essentially been pushed through in record time. New Mexico is in a unique position to receive the vaccine; one that presents a number of issues with distribution. With so many rural communities to consider, as well as a stretched-thin health care staff around the state, the potential problems of distribution are continually mounting. Both vaccine manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer have their own unique strategic issue to contend with.

What About the Kids?

There is also the anti-vaccine contingent to consider. Currently, the vaccine isn’t mandatory and won’t be any time soon. According to clinicaltrials.gov, testing of the Pfizer vaccine for children 12 to 15 years old has begun, but the first round isn’t estimated to be complete until August of 2021. A spokeswoman for Moderna told the New York Times that the pharmaceutical company would begin testing its vaccine in children 12 to 17 years old this week. All studies concerning children on clinicaltrials.gov show none of the trials have started recruiting. One health care professional in Doña Ana County said she doesn’t trust that a safe vaccine will be available for her kids any time soon. “I understand that this is a pandemic, but until there’s any real data that shows our kids are safe, this isn’t something we should play around our kids lives with. I doubt that there will be enough data for several years that shows children are safe with either vaccine.”

Long lines at Expo NM for COVID testing

New Mexico’s Population

NMDOH acknowledges in the plan that our state has a number of challenges with regard to statewide vaccination. More than half of New Mexico’s population lives in the northern part of the state, while the rest are spread out in rural communities and tribal areas. With many of those communities left without a health care service facility, distributing a vaccine is indeed a major issue. According to NMDOH almost 20 percent of the state’s population is living in poverty, and close to 11 percent is uninsured. Each of our 23 tribal sovereign nations has a different health care system to contend with. The state’s Medical Advisory Team has provided data that shows COVID-19 infection and morbidity rates are disproportionately higher in the Native American communities and require a unique strategy separate from the rest of the population.

Pharmaceutical Hurdles

Both vaccine manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer have their own unique strategic issues to contend with. After Pfizer announced in November that New Mexico would be one of four states to participate in a trial rollout, concerns about the vaccine surfaced. Pfizer’s vaccine requires subzero cold chain handling and must be administered within six hours. Both vaccines require two doses to be administered within 21 days of each other. When dealing with a rural population, this could prove to be insurmountable.

Several Moderna trial subjects reported severe side effects with the dose, including fevers, intense prolonged headaches and body shakes. Both companies reported that there were no serious side effects in the majority of patients. With a new vaccine that has been rushed through a process to reach billions of people around the world, there are no doubt side effects and major population issues to contend with. Coupled with a distrusting population, rural and impoverished communities and little to no information on the effects of the vaccine on children, transparency will be key to administering a successful vaccine during a pandemic in New Mexico. [ ]

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