Responding to

"The time is always right to do the right thing."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It's hard to know what to believe about vaccine availability.

According to this piece from NBC News, public health experts were pleased when the Health and Human Services Department announced several weeks ago that they were releasing all of the COVID-19 vaccine being held in the national reserve stockpile. A study from Israel found that, two weeks after the first dose, infections among vaccinated people were 50 percent less than those who were not vaccinated. Testing done by the manufacturers also found high rates of protection after the first dose of both manufacturers' vaccine. Making a first dose available to more people would likely reduce the severity of the pandemic.

As it turned out, however, there were no additional doses to be sent. The release of reserve doses was to target people who needed their second shot, not new pools of people who were getting their first shot. Going forward, the Department explained, each weekly shipment of vaccine to states would include doses for new recipients as well as second doses for people due for their booster shots.

The announcement compounded the confusion associated with the Department's earlier announcement that it was asking states to focus their Phase 1b vaccination efforts on people age 65 and older, rather than the original ACIP recommendation of those 75 and older. It added that it was reducing each state's allotment to reflect that recommendation, rather than using the state's overall population as it had been. Some states chose to follow the new suggestion. Other states chose to set their own priorities.

New Mexico continues to follow the original ACIP guidance. Phase 1b remains focused on people 75 years or older, people 16 years or older with certain chronic medical conditions, frontline essential workers who can't work remotely, and specific vulnerable populations. However, the sequencing of those groups within the 1b category seems inconsistent and the available supply of vaccine is still a bit murky.

For those who've received their first vaccination, although you may have been given a date for your second dose, that date is tentative. You will hear from the Department of Health when you're scheduled to receive your second shot. We're also working with the Department to facilitate clients receiving the vaccine. It's a complicated process.

With the quantity of supplies in doubt and the focus of Phase 1b seemingly fluid, it's little wonder people are confused.

Adding to all this is news that a new variant of the coronavirus is more contagious than what we've been dealing with. Known as B117 and first identified in Britain, the variant doesn’t appear to cause more severe disease, but it has the potential to infect more people. The CDC predicts that this variant could become the dominant source of infection in the US by March. Variants with the same mutation have been reported in Brazil and South Africa. Scientists are also studying whether a variant with a different mutation, and first found in Denmark, along with one identified in California, have caused a surge of cases in California. New research findings on the variants and their possible resistance to vaccines continues to be reported daily.
How do we make sense of all of this?

Regarding the new, more infectious variants of the coronavirus, Andrew Joseph writes in Stat, "For now, none of the variants seems to change how sick people get with COVID-19." As for the current generation of vaccines, he explains, "The vaccines generate a multipronged immune response that recognizes and targets different parts of the virus; changes caused by one mutation likely won’t make the virus invisible to protective antibodies generated by immunizations. And even if a mutation reduces the vaccines’ effectiveness a bit, the shots have been shown to be so powerful that they should work just fine even if their potency is taken down a notch." Dr. Anthony Fauci agreed, saying at a press conference last Thursday that, even if the vaccines are less effective, they will still likely provide enough protection to make them worth getting.

Vaccine availability is less clear. A recent piece in The New York Times reported that thousands of people across the country learned that their vaccination appointments had been abruptly canceled after vaccine shipments to local health departments and other distributors fell short of what was expected. New Mexico health officials, however, say they don’t expect to run out of vaccine. According to the Department of Health, since the distribution system was put in place late last year, New Mexico has been ordering the maximum number of doses it can and its orders are typically filled.

Obviously, that can change. The new federal administration has set its sights on vaccinating 100 million people in 100 days. Last week, Rochelle Walensky, the new head of the CDC, acknowledged the shortage issues but added that she is confident there will be enough available supply to meet the 100 million goal. “It will be a hefty lift, but we have enough to do that.”

The limited vaccine supply also seems to be creating an ethical dilemma for some people. Melinda Wenner Moyer suggests that declining a COVID-19 shot because you think it should go to someone else at higher risk won’t help anyone. She points out that there are a number of reasons to get a shot if it’s offered. For one thing, there’s no reason to believe that if you forgo your dose, it will go to someone at greater risk. For another, we're not particularly good at assessing our own risk of infection. “If they call you to get vaccinated, you should go,” Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist with New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, advises.

Finding a path through all of the confusion isn't easy. The news seems to change daily and sometimes even faster than that. Sometimes the news sounds rather dire, and other times it's reassuring. Making sense of it all can be tough. But we know what to do. So, please, continue to do everything you can to keep yourself and others as safe and as healthy as possible. Eventually, the confusion will subside.

In gratitude,
Thank you for your vigilance. We want you to stay safe,
healthy, and informed.