Following federal approvals by the FDA and CDC, as well as a review by the state’s Medical Advisory Team, the New Mexico Department of Health last week authorized COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine booster shots for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Accordingly, parents and guardians can now register and schedule their children for vaccine boosters at or directly with their health care provider. The booster dose for people 16 years and older is to be administered at least six months after completion of the primary series and the same dosage as the Pfizer primary series.

Health department officials stress that getting boosters on time is especially important given the rise in Delta-related cases in New Mexico, as well as the recent emergence of the Omicron variant.

On Monday, the Department of Health announced its first identified case of Omicron. The case was identified on Sunday, Dec. 12 and is a female adult in Bernalillo County. The individual reported recent domestic travel to a state with reported cases of Omicron. The individual was seen in a local emergency room and discharged stable to home. DOH is currently conducting a thorough case investigation.

Otherwise, Socorro County saw a considerable dip in new COVID-19 infections over the past week, although daily numbers remained mostly in double digits.

The latest data released Monday by the CDC showed that Socorro County’s COVID-19 positivity rate for the seven days ending Dec. 13 was 24.1 percent. The number of new cases in those seven days was 107, about half compared to the week before.

The other seven-day metric – cases per 100,000 – was 643.14. Based on the old color-coded system, this would keep Socorro County in the red category.

According to the CDC website, 10,431 people in Socorro County 12-and-over are fully vaccinated, which is 73.3 percent of the county’s 12-and-over population.

Of the county’s total population, 10,511 (63.2 percent) have received two doses.

Twenty-nine percent of Socorro County’s 18-and-over population have received a booster.

One new death was reported in Socorro County on Thursday – A female in her 70s who had been hospitalized and had underlying conditions – bringing that total to 66 since the pandemic began, and there was one new COVID-19 hospitalization in the seven-day period.

Statewide, 75.1 percent of New Mexicans 18-and-over have completed the initial two-dose series, with 29 percent receiving the third shot.

“Three-quarters of New Mexico adults have now completed their initial vaccination series,” DOH Deputy Secretary Dr. Laura Parajon said on Monday. “This is a massive milestone for our state, and I want to thank every New Mexican for getting your shots and protecting your community.”

In the 12-17 age group, 56.3 percent are fully vaccinated.

For ages 5-11 years old, 10.1 percent have completed the two-dose series, and 40 percent have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

During an online briefing on December 8, acting Secretary of the Department of Health Dr. David Scrase said with a record high of 687 COVID-19 cases taking up hospital beds, some patients are waiting in emergency room beds for days after being admitted to hospitals because there is no room.

Scrase reported that from Nov. 8 through Dec. 6, 74 percent of new cases were among those who had not received primary vaccinations. The unvaccinated accounted for 81.5 percent of hospitalizations and 85.7 of COVID-19 deaths in the same time period.

“We’re not seeing any downturn (with hospital cases),” Scrase said. “And that’s what’s most important.”

He encouraged people with less-severe ailments to see their primary care providers instead of calling 911.

To date, 15.5 percent of New Mexicans have contracted the disease.

Meanwhile, the University of New Mexico is requiring all employees and students to get a COVID-19 booster shot by Jan. 17. The university said the new requirement, which expands on the previous vaccination requirement, applies to all individuals eligible for booster shots but that some religious and medical-based exemptions may be granted.

At New Mexico Tech, employees and students must provide either satisfactory documentation of full vaccination or satisfactory proof of a weekly negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test. Since the fall semester of 2020, the university has reported 188 cases.

The New Mexico Department of Health’s amended public health order issued two weeks ago requires workers in higher-risk environments – including health care and congregate-care settings – to receive a booster shot as soon as they are eligible to protect against the ongoing spread of COVID-19.

Scrase said during last week’s briefing that he hears questions about why the state’s coronavirus caseloads are so high, given it was a leader in initial vaccinations. He said the answer lies in several variables, such as spending more time in crowds, mask compliance, keeping one’s hands clean, and not coughing into the air. At the same time, compliance with New Mexico’s mask mandate for indoor public settings appears to be low, he said.

“I’m slowly trying to work my way through the psychology of this,” Scrase said. “I’ve spent a lot of the summer adopting a completely non-judgmental attitude toward people who go unvaccinated. I still struggle with it, with people who take off their masks while I’m in the room.”

Key Reminders

  • Teens 16 – 17 years old can only get a Pfizer booster. Adults 18 years and older can get a booster dose of any of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the US (Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J).
  • Although COVID-19 vaccination remains effective in preventing severe disease, recent data suggest vaccinations become less effective over time – hence the importance of boosters.
  • Data from clinical trials showed that a booster shot increased the immune response in trial participants who finished an mRNA vaccine six months earlier or who received a J&J single-dose vaccine two months earlier.