ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The head of the New Mexico Public Education Department said Wednesday that progress is being made when it comes to vaccinating the state’s middle and high school students now that eligibility has been expanded to include those 12 and older.
Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said during a briefing with reporters that more than 27,000 children between the ages of 12 and 18 are now fully vaccinated. Nearly 13,800 students have received at least one shot and more are scheduled.
Stewart pointed to the decline in new COVID-19 cases being reported each week among students and teachers, saying the vaccination effort is working as the number of schools on the state's watch list is down by half from just two week ago. Only two schools — a high school in Albuquerque and a middle school in Clovis — were forced to close because of newly reported cases over the last 14 days.
Schools are not driving community spread, Stewart said. Requirements call for unvaccinated students or staff who were exposed outside of school to be quarantined. Close contacts also are being tracked as a way to limit spread.
“Even in those instances where COVID has shown up in a school, we've got the right systems in place to keep that from spreading to others,” he said.
Overall, the percentage of New Mexicans 16 and older who are vaccinated neared 53% on Wednesday. While the pace has slowed somewhat, state officials expressed confidence that New Mexico would meet its 60% goal by the end of June. That will trigger the end of its color-coded system for determining risk in each county and the removal of most pandemic-related restrictions on commercial activities.
Currently, all but one county is classified as turquoise. That level includes the fewest restrictions on commercial and day-to-day activities.
As part of the effort to sway more New Mexicans to get vaccinated, state health officials warned that those who have not been vaccinated are about 10 times more likely to be infected as the virus mutates. State officials said more than 98% of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases are in unvaccinated people.
Nearly 530 infections have been reported among people who have been vaccinated in what officials call breakthrough cases, with a few dozen of them being hospitalized. State officials confirmed one death was attributed to COVID-19 while confirmation of another was pending.
Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said there's still more to learn about these cases as many of the patients showed no symptoms.
“The pandemic is not over,” Scrase repeated. “We have to keep up the full-court press here — vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals — to keep cases down.”