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

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The demand in New Mexico for the COVID-19 vaccine is high, as it is in most parts of the country. According to the state’s Department of Health, the demand currently exceeds the supply given to the state every week from the federal government. In a sort of “Hunger Games” for the COVID vaccine, those who are unwilling or unable to wait and navigate the state’s complicated system have chosen to go out of state for the vaccine. 

With overwhelming demand in the early months of the vaccine rollout, The New York Times reports thousands of Americans are crossing state lines on quests for doses. The scramble to get inoculated has turned attention to the patchwork of vaccination rules devised by states, given a lack of national, standardized protocols. With no federal plan for distributing coronavirus vaccines, states are left to devise their own vaccination rules. 

The Paper. was contacted by multiple readers who had been registered with the Department of Health system for quite some time and still had not received a vaccine, despite having serious underlying conditions or being older than 75. One reader wrote, “My brother has Stage 4 liver disease and has been registered with the state since day one. He’s terminal and can’t wait any longer, so he’s traveling to Amarillo to get the vaccine, and I’m encouraging the rest of my family to do the same.”

Autumn Taylor is a nurse and has already received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine. While she does not have any underlying conditions, her husband does. He registered at the same time she did but has yet to receive his first dose. Last week he received a text message at 7pm giving him an event code to sign up for a first-come-first-serve appointment. Within the hour, he went online to register. He was told all appointments were booked, but he was still registered and the department would reach out again soon. Within two days he received another text to sign up for an appointment. This time, he was ready. Within five minutes he tried to register. Again, he was told all appointments were booked. “We are beyond frustrated,” Autumn said. “I can only imagine how hard this must to navigate for someone who is much older or needs it much more than my husband.”

In Texas receiving the vaccine is a much easier process. El Paso County has a registration process, but the City of Amarillo does not. The public health clinic located inside the Amarillo Civic Center Complex administers the COVID vaccine, talking walk-in appointments Monday to Friday throughout the day. On its website the clinic states, “The City of Amarillo Public Health Department is currently administering COVID-19 vaccines to all individuals identified in the State of Texas Phase 1A and 1B Vaccine Allocation Plan.” The clinic told The Paper. only an ID is required to receive the vaccine, and there are no registration or residency requirements as long as you say you identify with either Phase 1A or 1B. Those traveling from Albuquerque are welcome.

Currently, New Mexico has over 660,000 people registered to receive the vaccine. Over 350,000 have received their first shot and almost 200,000 have received their booster shot. That leaves over 110,000 people registered in the state that haven’t received their shot. While the state is currently in phase 1B, the DOH said it will be moving soon into the next phase, opening the doors to even more registrants. The DOH also recognized that the current alert system in place is creating confusion and delay for some seniors trying to register for vaccine appointments. In order to mitigate the technological delays for seniors, the DOH says it is working with the app settings to give seniors extra time to respond to appointment invitations.

For people in New Mexico who are registered and still waiting for vaccines, it can be frustrating to see others travel to another state and possibly put themselves at risk. According to one reader, “Interstate travel was strongly discouraged for so long. It’s hard to imagine crossing state lines at all. Even in the service of public health.” The state health department had no comment about people crossing state lines to receive the vaccine but did say they do not verify residency in New Mexico.

Public health experts have weighed in as well. Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told The New York Times, “Anybody who was able to get a vaccine should—even if that meant going across state lines. We have to stop stigmatizing people who get vaccinated,” he said.

Other medical professionals disagree. NPR’s Weekend Edition recently asked a panel of medical ethicists whether it was OK to jump ahead if you have that option:

If I’m not eligible in my county, but I could be if I lived in the county next to mine, should I drive over to get it?

In this case, the answer is “100% no,” says Gabriel Lázaro-Muñoz of the Baylor College of Medicine. Here, he says, you’re not preventing a vaccine dose from going to waste; instead, you’re taking a slot that was intended for your neighbor.

“The allocation is very limited right now. Any county that’s getting these vaccines is having a hard time getting them, and they are getting them in part based on a consideration of their population, and what their population needs,” Lázaro-Muñoz says.

People engaged in active line-cutting — strategically positioning themselves to receive vaccines that were not intended for them — may be acting with “vaccine entitlement,” says Fletcher: “There are certain people who feel justified in accessing and skipping the line and going to a county over or state over because they’re so accustomed to having access, and believe they are deserving of resources that others may not have.”

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