By RICHARD SKOLNIK
The good news is that New Mexico has done very well compared to most states in using the vaccine given to it. New Mexico also has a very well-organized approach to registering for and administering vaccines, compared to most states.
The bad news, however, is that there is exceptional variance in the administration of the vaccine by county within New Mexico. (https://cvvaccine.nmhealth.org/public-dashboard.html).
The number of doses administered per 100 people, for example, varies from 40 in Union County to 4 in Mora County. Santa Fe has administered 24 doses per 100 people and Bernalillo 17. On the other hand, nine counties have administered fewer than 7 doses per 100 people. This includes Los Alamos, which has administered about 5 doses per 100 people.
It is impossible to tell exactly what is behind such wide variance by county. However, it is clear that this level of differences cannot be explained on the basis of differences in demography alone. Nor can it be explained on the basis of capacity to use the vaccines since the counties, including Los Alamos, have been able to make effective use of all of the vaccines given to them. Rather, it appears that the state has provided disproportionate amounts of vaccine to some counties compared to others – for reasons that are not clear.
Vaccination against COVID-19 is a matter of life and death. Thus, is essential that our state manage its vaccine program in ways that are fair. It is also essential that the public perceive it to be fair.
I commend the state for recently publishing county data on vaccine “coverage”, which brought to public attention the variance in vaccine administration by county. However, the state must now identify what led to the maldistribution of vaccines and put distribution on a fairer path. The state could also help ensure greater fairness in the vaccine program by publishing vaccine coverage data by county, by vaccine eligible group. The public will then be in a position to help monitor the program and in conjunction with their elected officials, can seek to ensure that each county in New Mexico is getting its fair share of the vaccine.
Editor’s note: Richard Skolnik is the former regional director for health for South Asia at the World Bank. He was the director of an AIDS treatment program for Harvard and taught Global Health at the George Washington University and Yale. He is the author of Global Health 101 and the instructor for Yale/Coursera’s Essentials of Global Health.