Editor's note: NMDOH spokesman Matt Bieber tells ABC-7 the state did not intend to open up the next category of vaccine distribution to teachers and other essential frontline workers last week when it approved mass vaccination sites for teachers.
"Unfortunately, a DOH employee made a mistake and gave the go-ahead for each of these events," Bieber wrote to ABC-7. "Given that the groups scheduled for vaccination at these events are outside the current phase criteria, they were cancelled." The sequenced distribution plan at this time only calls for people 75 years and older, and people 16+ with chronic conditions.
LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- After initially including educators in the "1B" category of state residents who could receive the Covid-19 vaccine, the New Mexico Department of Health is reversing course, according to the Las Cruces Public Schools which received notice of the change on Friday.
That means educators will no longer be allowed to receive the vaccine ahead of others, unless they meet other 1B criteria which includes being age 75 and older or having underlying medical conditions that put them at risk.
“It’s disappointing to say the least," said Kelly Jameson, a spokeswoman for LCPS.
As of 3:30 p.m. on Friday, a total of 900 educators across Doña Ana County educators had received their first doses at MountainView Regional Medical Center, according to LCPS. That number includes educators from other districts and charter schools.
"We’ve had a lot of stops and starts and pauses along the way and speed bumps," said Gabe Jacquez, the LCPS deputy superintendent of operations. "Depending on where this goes, it’s another one of those pauses."
Jacquez told ABC-7 that the state postponed 1,400 appointments next week for educators in Las Cruces Public Schools, alone.
"It's very sad," Jameson said. “Everything that we’ve scheduled for next week has been canceled”
She told ABC-7 that the state cannot deny the second dose to the educators who have already received their first dose.
Friday's word that the state was halting vaccinations for teachers and school staff came after the state abruptly canceled a massive vaccination clinic for educators in northern New Mexico on Thursday, according to ABC Albuquerque affiliate KOAT. A health official told KOAT it was a "mistake" to have scheduled the clinic in the first place.
That same spokesman offered this explanation to ABC-7 on Friday: "Teachers are frontline essential workers – but we’re not yet vaccinating that sub-phase within 1B."
The Associated Press reported that at least one state lawmaker has criticized the reversal in vaccine eligibility.
Republican Sen. Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho sent a letter to Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins, calling the agency's decision incomprehensible and demanding that it deliver the vaccines it had promised for educators.
“Your agency’s incomprehensible decision demonstrates a callous disregard for the families and teachers of the communities I represent,” Brandt wrote in the letter.
The state of New Mexico has received more than 203,000 doses so far, with about 163,000 being administered. State health officials have said they have been ordering the maximum allowed from the federal government and don't expect to run out.
The state Health Department said it expects to begin vaccinating the general public by mid-2021.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)