Moderna Stock – NM should continue lining up for any vaccine » Albuquerque Journal
Give Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., some credit. He’s asking an important question – even if state health officials seem awfully quick to dismiss it.
And the senior senator from New Mexico has a growing and compelling body of data on his side.
Heinrich and fellow Democrat Chris Van Hollen of Maryland last week wrote to the White House Coronavirus Task Force asking the group to consider changing the COVID vaccine rollout guidelines by using what is planned as a second-dose vaccine as another person’s initial shot. Recent data show one shot of the vaccine made by both Pfizer and Moderna is effective against severe illness, hospitalizations and death. Expanding the rollout of single doses “would be the most societally beneficial choice,” the senators wrote in a letter heavily annotated with footnotes to medical journals and medical studies.
“Rapidly and strategically expanding first-dose vaccine coverage will help to more quickly reduce the susceptible population, protect high-risk individuals and alleviate the strain on our health care system in the face of a (variant) B.1.1.7 surge.”
This is exactly the approach they are taking in the UK., with success. According to a BBC report, the campaign to reach as many people as quickly as possible was “boosted by a shift in policy in early January to prioritize the first dose of a vaccine, with a second dose up to 12 weeks later, a much bigger gap than originally planned.”
Because while policies have changed, the underlying goal has not: This is about getting to herd immunity, critical mass where enough people have either been vaccinated or had the illness (or both) so that the damned virus is eradicated.
The change has allowed the UK, which had one of the world’s worst outbreaks, to offer a first dose to its top-priority groups that include ages 70 and over, care home residents and health care workers by mid February. They have moved on to include ages 60 and above and those with underlying health conditions. And the delayed second dose will mean more people get shots that are highly effective, and a second dose can be administered as anticipated new supplies of vaccines arrive.
“New research gives the British government greater confidence there were few risks, and potentially many benefits, to allowing more than three weeks to elapse between the administration of first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
New Mexico Health Secretary Tracie Collins did not appear swayed during a press briefing Wednesday. She said the state will continue on its two-dose regimen within 21 to 28 days of the first when using the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. “We’ve evaluated what is the most efficient and appropriate approach to vaccine rollout … and we are in agreement that we do not just want to give everyone just one shot,” she said.
Of course no one is suggesting just one shot. What Heinrich and others have suggested is a delay between the first and second dose so more people can be protected – and one shot does that to a significant degree.
According to the state vaccine dashboard Thursday, 401,020 New Mexicans had received the first dose and 226,665 had been given the second. Under Heinrich’s suggested approach, perhaps another 200,000 New Mexicans whose protection is primarily masks and social distancing would instead have a significant resistance to the virus.
And that’s something the governor should take very seriously. This issue raised by Sen. Heinrich isn’t a dangerous Texas-style idea to eliminate the mask mandate and open things up 100% – two things the governor is right not to do. But it is an important suggestion with considerable scientific support and a major public health payoff.
And it is doable. State officials have said New Mexico is capable of administering half again as many doses a day as we currently are giving based on current supply. As additional vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and perhaps Astrazeneca (already approved in the UK) are available, that second shot can be expedited. Given the outcry for a prized appointment in letters to the editor and Speak Up! submissions, the state would have no problem filling the slots.
Further, a switch to this strategy now would help head off the inevitable “vaccine resistance” for the one-shot J&J vaccine – which is highly effective against serious illness and death even if you might be more likely to contract a mild case. As it stands now, the state has to convince people that one J&J is fine, but that you still need two of the Pfizer and Moderna in close proximity – when you don’t, based on what we’ve seek in the UK.
(In an important aside, kudos to Archbishop John C. Wester for telling his flock last week “it is entirely morally acceptable to receive this one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine or either of the other two. Indeed, Pope Francis has made it clear that by being vaccinated we are exhibiting a genuine love of our neighbor and a regard for the sanctity of human life.” Controversy for some centers around the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines using an abortion-derived cell line for testing, and J&J using it for developing, testing and producing its vaccine.)
The state has done a good job of getting shots in the arms with the doses it has received. But the system has plenty of flaws. We are one of just three states that hasn’t extended the priority list down to age 65. Others have done it because of demonstrated risk. And under the New Mexico system, a 60-year-old with one underlying health condition has the same chance of getting vaccinated as one with multiple conditions. That process might be random, but it’s not really equitable. Giving more people the first dose helps hedge against that problem.
The senator has no control over what the state does. But give him credit for stepping up and raising this important issue. The governor talks about saving lives. This could be an opportunity to save more of them by rethinking the state program along the lines Heinrich has suggested.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.
[Moderna Stock – NM should continue lining up for any vaccine » Albuquerque Journal
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