The new highly contagious delta variant has finally made its way to New Mexico and has officials wary about outbreaks among the state’s unvaccinated. Since first surfacing in India, the delta variant has sent shockwaves across countries that have just emerged from lockdowns. Outbreaks of the delta variant are currently ravaging through Chile, Indonesia, and even countries that appeared to have defeated the virus, such as Isreal and South Korea. Cases of the delta variant have also begun to surface in Northern New Mexico and have the potential to spread rapidly through the state’s sparsely vaccinated southern counties. In June, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said the first case of the Delta variant was identified in the northern part of the Nation.
Despite the accessibility of vaccines and an extensive campaign by the state to incentivize residents to receive their vaccinations, many are still reluctant to receive their vaccination. This trend reflects the nationwide struggle to vaccinate rural counties, as many states are in a race to achieve herd immunity against emerging variants. With new, highly contagious variants now spreading throughout the U.S., most notably the delta variant, officials fear that the unvaccinated will derail the year-long effort to overcome the pandemic.
As of July 1, New Mexico has vaccinated 62 percent of its residents. But, vaccination rates are highly variable across the state. Northern New Mexico leads the effort, with most counties in the region having vaccinated at least 70 percent of their population. Los Alamos County leads the state, with at least 80 percent of the county’s residents receiving vaccinations. McKinley County is a close second, having also vaccinated at least 80 percent of its residents.
It is an entirely different story in Southern New Mexico, with many residents resistant or skeptical to either the vaccine or the danger of the virus. Roosevelt County claims the top spot for the lowest percentage of vaccinated residents, with only 31 percent of its residents vaccinated. Other southern counties, especially in New Mexico’s southeastern corner, share the abysmally low vaccination rates, with many plateauing between 40 and 50 percent. The pattern of vaccination rates per county mirrors the 2020 election, with many Republican-leaning counties reporting the lowest vaccination rates. The hyperpartisan nature of vaccinations in New Mexico reflects the nationwide trend, where many rural, Trump-leaning counties have continued to be openly skeptical and hostile to vaccinations.
The hostility of particular regions in the state to vaccinations has many officials concerned about a new wave of localized outbreaks. States with low vaccination rates, such as Arkansas, Mississippi, and Missouri, have seen outbreaks of the delta variant. These are also a few of the states with the lowest vaccination rates, with Mississippi claiming the lowest spot with a little over 30 percent of their population vaccinated.
Studies have shown that current vaccines are still highly effective against these new strains. The efficacy rate of two-dose vaccines is only slightly less effective against the delta variant. Reports have also cited that the majority of deaths from the delta variant were among the unvaccinated. Health officials continue to urge residents to get vaccinated, noting that it is the greatest defense against another wave of the virus.
“There is a danger — a real danger — that if there is a persistence of a recalcitrance to getting vaccinated, that you could see localized surges, which is the reason why I want to emphasize what all four of us have said: All of that is totally and completely avoidable by getting vaccinated,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House COVID advisor, said in a recent press briefing. Dr. Fauci also commented that the delta variant has the potential to be the greatest threat to the yearlong effort to finally defeat the virus.
The delta variant is considered to be up to twice as contagious as previous variants.