New Mexico should be able weather a potential storm of a reported omicron sub-variant because of the state’s vaccination efforts combating COVID-19, according to Dr. Christine Ross.

“We are in a good situation, and we do have a decent wall of protection,” said Ross, the New Mexico Department of Health’s state epidemiologist. “It’s not easily interpretable yet what’s happening in other countries.”

Ross said the full picture isn’t clear because while some countries’ cases are rising, other countries haven’t seen spikes.

That’s not to say New Mexico and the United States won’t see cases rise again.

Dr. Christine Ross, NMDOH State Epidemiologist
(Courtesy photo)

“It could certainly happen here, and so we are trying to get prepared for that. BA.2 does look like it’s more transmissible or more infectious than BA.1, so that is definitely something to be vigilant about and to monitor, for sure,” Ross said.

Countries like the United Kingdom, France and Italy have seen upticks in new cases over the last couple weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. South Korea is also experiencing a spike in cases in March.

“Some of these countries that are seeing surges also have high rates of vaccination. If there’s some populations of unvaccinated people, wherever they are, these really infectious variants find them and can cause a surge in cases,” Ross said.

NM’s vaccination rate reason for hope?

New Mexico saw omicron cases skyrocket around New Year’s before hitting its peak in mid-January, followed by a rapid drop.

Between Dec. 27 and Jan. 2, Sandoval County and Bernalillo County saw average daily case rates per 100,000 in population of 78.7 and 85, respectively. The new age-adjusted hospital admission rates for that time period were 13.5 and 9.0.

Between March 7 and March 13, those numbers plummeted to 11.4 and 9.3, respectively. The new age-adjusted hospital admission rates for that time frame dropped to 4.1 and 3.0.

“Our health care system is definitely seeing a much-needed reprieve,” Ross aid.

As of Tuesday, 77.6 percent of New Mexico adults have completed their primary vaccination series, and 45.5 percent of adults in the state received their boosters.

As of Tuesday, 83.4 percent of Sandoval County adults have completed their primary vaccination series, while 81.5 percent of Bernalillo County adults have completed their primary vaccination series.

“These COVID-19 vaccines are remarkable in their ability to prevent serious illness and death. I think everyone needs to fully understand that,” Ross said.

Despite seeing some breakthrough infections amid the omicron wave, she said vaccines and public health measures played a powerful role mitigating case counts and helping more people stay out of the hospital.

“Now, we have really, really low disease level,” she said.

She said the number of emergency department visits have dropped significantly because of decreasing burden of disease in communities.

Still, she also said one must keep in mind the state experienced similarly low COVID-19 levels last summer before the Delta variant entered the picture. In other words, the pandemic won’t end until it ends worldwide.

The next steps

Ross said it’s critical that younger children get vaccinated, and those who are immunocompromised should get their second boosters.

As of Tuesday, 31 percent of children ages five to 11 completed their primary vaccination series, and only 39.3 percent of kids in that age group have received their first dose.

Ross said that while children tend to better manage infections, pediatric hospitalizations and deaths still occur. On top of that, she said children are at risk for developing complicated post-COVID conditions that can impact their health in the long run.

All eligible New Mexico adults who’ve only received two doses should get either their booster dose or anti-viral treatment options like oral pills and monoclonal antibody treatments because of waning immunity following their second doses, she said.

“We want to ramp up the number of people vaccinated to the highest levels possible. We still have gaps,” Ross said.