Getting folks to trust the government under the best of conditions is a tough task. Asking people to let the government put a shot in their arm during a worldwide pandemic is a particular challenge for those rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine.

COVID Chatter

There is a lot of information swirling out there in regards to getting the COVID-19 vaccine. People may not know what to do, where to go or how to go about doing it. We chatted with Tom Thorpe, Bernalillo County’s communications administrator, about how the vaccine rollout is going in the county, what we can expect and where to go for updated, comprehensive and easy to understand information. 

The Paper.: Here we are finding our way through vaccinating ourselves during this deadly pandemic. What can you tell us about how the vaccine rollout is going?

Tom Thorpe: It’s going well. We are participating with the state, who gets the vaccine from the feds. We are operating two county PODS, or Point of Distribution Sites, one at the National Hispanic Cultural Center and the other at the Raymond G. Sanchez Community Center. It is the nature of the beast to have to stand in line, but you can only jab people in the arm so fast. The wait is not long, maybe an hour. We will add more sites as we move forward. The vaccines are time sensitive, so you either have to use it or lose it. We want the vaccines in the arms.

What else?

After you register with the State Health Department, you will be prioritized—then, when it is your turn, you will receive the notification. There is about a week’s notice. There are options to pick the time and the closest, most convenient vaccine site. On a statewide basis, about a quarter of the population have registered. The majority of people in New Mexico have not registered. You can’t get in line if you have not registered. According to the latest data, in Bernalillo County and pretty much across New Mexico, the age groups of 20 to 29 and 30 to 39 are at the top for testing positive for the virus. An exception in Catron County where 70 to 79 and 60 to 69 are the folks testing positive.

How Are You Getting the Word Out?

A county’s new multimedia, seven-month-long educational campaign will be coming out soon. The initiative, tagged “Get The Shot,” is being done to support the State Health Department that is the lead agency who oversees COVID-19 related issues. This is a priority for the county to invest in this initiative. Not a two-week project, it is seven months, and it will adjust with what happens as we move forward in the pandemic. It will be bilingual, including a multimedia approach to tell us all why this is important. This will not make masks or hand sanitizer or social distancing go away, but it will help get us back to work, school and entertainment.

It is not a mandate; it is a public information campaign to get people through the process of registering and getting vaccinated. Get registered, get the shot. If you want this to go away, then you have to do your part. Until we put vaccines in arms, we can’t get back to normal. … “Gotta Get the Shot” resonates with people. Yes, “Gotta Get the Shot” has had many intonations over the decades.

What are the barriers that people are facing to getting registered?

Awareness and education and knowledge. People know the vaccine is coming out. Part of our job is to get them registered and then get them to a vaccination site. Another part is to answer questions people have about the vaccine such as safety. We are not telling you that you have to do this. It is about how you want to participate in solving this problem. Our education process is to help you understand how we can solve this problem. Our whole deal is to educate the public and give them the mental vehicle to participate. If we can’t get the vaccines in the arms, we can’t get back to eating out and all the other things we miss. Immigration status is not asked as part of the vaccine registration. 

Thorpe went on to say the county has invested in this campaign to educate the public about the benefits of getting as many of us BernCo peeps vaccinated in order to slow down the pandemic. Thorpe stressed that any hope of a successful reopening is an individual choice, not a mandate. So let’s be good neighbors, look around to see if a shut-in, an immigrant or anyone who may have challenges getting registered needs a little help.

The state Department of Health echoes Thorpe’s efforts. “There are certain groups of New Mexicans who need different types of support with getting registered and vaccinated; folks who don’t have internet access, some seniors and others who aren’t especially comfortable with the internet,” said Matt Bieber, communications director for the Department of Health. “Beyond that, it’s just a matter of getting the word out, explaining how the system works and encouraging people to register.”

According to the feds at the Center for Disease Control, we all still need to continue to use all the tools available even after being vaccinated—like covering your mouth and nose with a mask, washing your hands often and maintaining at least six feet of social distance.  Mask up, wash up, stay back, and we all gotta get the shot.

The county’s website at bernco.gov/coronavirus has a link to the State Department of Health to get registered. The state’s website with a county-by-county breakdown is cvprovider.nmhealth.org