Officials in Torrance County are worried their efforts for vaccine distributions may be going to residents outside of the county. Mayors Ted Hart, Peter Nieto, and Nathan Dial all said they didn’t recognize a majority of the people that showed up to vaccination events that were held in Torrance County.
“I don’t want to say I know a lot of people, but I didn’t really see a lot of people I knew at this event,” Nieto said. “What tipped us off was earlier in the day, we got phone calls from people figuring out how to get to Mountainair. We asked where they were from and they were like, ‘Oh, we’re coming in from Los Lunas, never been to Mountainair.’”
Hart said the communities are spending about $300 to $500 a week to employ people to help with the events to vaccinate Torrance County residents.
“Me and Peter [Nieto] … decided to kind of check where people were coming from, and we found out that they were coming from outside of our county,” he said. “I would say we vaccinated probably 180 people, if not more, from Valencia County, Belen, and Los Lunas at Mountainair’s event. That really made us mad because we’re using our resources, our tax dollars to vaccinate other counties. We want everybody to be vaccinated, if they want it, we’re going to help out. But first we’ve got to take care of our own area.”
Torrance County Emergency Manager Matt Prop said the system that generates the radius for the events made the parameters too big.
“[The system] creates a big circle in essence,” he said. “If there’s not enough people registered in that immediate area, that circle just keeps getting bigger. What ended up happening was that the circle grew large enough by people who were already registered that we were heading into Valencia County.”
But Nieto said eligible residents in Torrance County were never contacted about the events in their area. He said he would understand if residents in other counties signed up first then that’s why they were getting called first, but said there has been no explanation as to why residents outside of the county are being called over Torrance County residents.
“Whenever they opened up the event in Mountainair, for example, for some reason, the Department of Health is calling people in Belen and Los Lunas rather than people in Mountainair, Estancia, and Moriarty,” he said. “That’s where the disconnect is. That’s what we need to figure out. Is it something that the county is doing, is it something that the DOH is doing, where is that problem happening? Why are people from outside the county being called before people from inside the county?”
Hart said there are only 377 people in Torrance County left in the 1a and 1b category that need to be vaccinated, and ideally they should be vaccinated in the next two weeks.
“I’ll give the state a little bit of leeway in this, as long as they’re getting it fixed, but I’ll tell you, if if they don’t, we’re gonna probably look at other ways of doing this for our county residents such as maybe using PMS, working with them to actually do more,” he said. “Maybe our local pharmacies. But we’re going to look at other resources if this continues because we can’t vaccinate the whole state.”
Matt Bieber, Director of Communications at NM DOH, said the DOH is working closely with the mayors and is working to get the problem fixed.
“Broadly speaking, the statewide registration system randomizes invitations to eligible people within a given area—and there are far more eligible people than there is supply,” he said. “Going forward, we will be implementing a county-specific invite feature within our system to ensure more precise, county-by-county targeting.”
Propp also said it is important to note that Torrance County residents are being vaccinated in other counties as well.
“We’ve had a lot of Torrance County residents who have been picked up in events in Santa Fe and Bernalillo County,” he said. “Even actually into Valencia County. It’s not that they’re being completely excluded … I would love to see those vaccines stay in our county, but the thing is, we’re looking at a whole community approach when we’re doing this, and really the Department of Health has the lead in this event.”
Dial said that in addition to lowering the parameters for registration, he would also like to see more vaccines for Torrance County and more manpower at the state level. The communities in Torrance County have come up with a great system for distributing the vaccine, he said, but they lack the support needed to fulfill those duties.
“Let’s say my admin clerk stopped to help with paperwork, my librarian stopped to help with traffic, Mountainair sends a nurse, Moriarty sends an ambulance, The National Guard sends 10 privates,” he said. “We got all that covered, but the individual that controls the vaccine doesn’t get overtime or extra staff to help deliver vaccines.”
Hart said he wants Torrance County residents to be able to be vaccinated right in their own area.
“A 75-year-old in inclement weather is not going to be able to drive to Tucumcari or to Clovis to get their shot when they can do it right here in their backyard,” he said. “It’s not going to happen … I want to know that we’re vaccinating at Torrance County first and of course we’re going to help with the rest of the state if we can, but I want to know that the people that want vaccines here in Torrance County are going to be vaccinated in the proper order that they signed up to do.”
Nieto said the next vaccination event in Torrance County will be next week. “They are doing Estancia’s 200 second dose and 300 new doses in Moriarty next week,” he said.
To register for Covid-19 vaccine, visit cvvaccine.nmhealth.org/my-registration.html.
New Mexicans without internet access can dial 855-600-3453, press option 0 for vaccine questions, then option 4 for tech support.