By Associated Press - Friday, January 22, 2021

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Vaccination clinics scheduled for hundreds of public school employees throughout Albuquerque and surrounding communities won’t happen after all, prompting criticism from a state lawmaker and disappointment from top administrators at two of the state’s largest school districts.

Republican Sen. Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho sent a letter Thursday to Dr. Tracie Collins, the state health secretary, demanding that the Health Department deliver the vaccines it had promised.

“Your agency’s incomprehensible decision demonstrates a callous disregard for the families and teachers of the communities I represent,” Brandt wrote.

A vaccination clinic had been set for Friday and Saturday at Rio Rancho Middle School, where as many as 1,800 people were expected to get shots, Brandt said. The Albuquerque public school district also had planned a vaccination event this week to provide several hundred doses for staff involved with in-person teaching for small groups of students with disabilities.

Health officials say the state is focusing the current round of vaccinations on people 75 and older and those who have underlying medical conditions that put them at risk from COVID-19. While some teachers around the state have received shots, officials have said the focus remains on the most vulnerable.

The Health Department did not immediately answer questions about why the clinics were allowed to be organized in the first place, but Collins on Friday again spelled out the groups of people who are eligible for shots.

“DOH needs to communicate clearly, consistently and repeatedly about the state’s vaccination plan,” she said. “But providers and other entities are also responsible for knowing - and following - that plan. That’s how we ensure that our limited supply of vaccine doses go to those who are most exposed or vulnerable to COVID-19.”

Albuquerque Interim Superintendent Scott Elder told the Albuquerque Journal that the school district was told by a provider they were initially allotted 2,000 vaccines. That was later dropped to 1,000. He said the district didn’t learn until Tuesday that the clinic wasn’t going to happen.

“People that have talked to me are pretty clear that it was heartbreaking, that it was very difficult,” Elder said.

Rio Rancho Superintendent V. Sue Cleveland said staff was distressed about the decision. In a memo to staff, she said the district and its partners were transparent with the Health Department throughout the planning process.

“This is after Sandoval Regional Medical Center, Sandoval County and Rio Rancho Public Schools received permission from (DOH) to move forward with the event … now, one day before the event, (DOH) has determined that they need to cancel,” she wrote.

The state has sent out numerous notices that it would follow phased distribution of the vaccine and that residents must register online if they want one. The registration system is designed to prioritize people based on factors such as age, health conditions and whether they are considered essential workers.

The state has received 212,600 doses so far, with nearly 186,000 being administered. State health officials have said they have been ordering from the federal government the maximum allowed and don’t expect to run out.

The Health Department said it expects to begin vaccinating the general public by mid-2021.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Mexico have surpassed 167,700 since the pandemic began. That includes 921 additional cases reported Friday. An additional 33 deaths also were reported, bringing the toll to nearly 3,080.

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