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Amid the latest rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, local health officials are urging New Mexico adults to get their vaccine boosters ahead of the winter holidays.

Dr. Jason Mitchell with Presbyterian Healthcare Services said in Thursday’s Zoom press conference that 87 percent of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at Presbyterian’s hospitals are unvaccinated. Dr. Rohini McKee of University of New Mexico Hospital said UNMH’s hospital floors and intensive care units are above capacity, and she isn’t seeing much relief.

Anticipating that cases will keep going up entering winter, Mitchell said the state can put an end to the pandemic if even half of unvaccinated individuals get their shots.

“If you’re ready for a booster, it’s time to get one,” he said.

As of Thursday morning, 18 percent of New Mexico adults have gotten their boosters, according to the New Mexico Department of Health’s website. Also, 84.4 percent of New Mexico adults have received at least one dose and 73.8 of New Mexico adults have completed their initial vaccination series, per the data.

As of Thursday afternoon, there have been 300,101 COVID-19 cases reported statewide since March 2020, and 599 New Mexicans are hospitalized. Between Oct. 30 and Thursday, the state reported nearly 25,000 COVID-19 cases, according to the NMDOH website.

Mitchell said he’s not seeing behaviors improve, and the increasing case numbers is like watching a car wreck in slow motion.

“Before vaccines, it was very hard to stop this… If we have everybody in New Mexico get vaccinated, in six weeks, seven weeks, this would be over,” Mitchell said. “The vaccine is very, very effective, and that’s what it’ll take.”

McKee recommends all New Mexico adults get their boosters, reiterating data that shows immunity starts waning six months after the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

She also said UNMH is doing everything it can to avoid having to ration care.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order Nov. 12, making all New Mexico adults eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot to help combat the rising case numbers and hospitalizations. New Mexico joined Colorado and California in making boosters available to anyone 18 and older.

“Providing boosters for adults will significantly increase levels of immunity protection across our state – and that’s essential for all of us. COVID-19 is incredibly opportunistic – and it’s our job to ensure that the virus has fewer and fewer opportunities to spread,” Department of Health Acting Secretary Dr. David R. Scrase said in a press release. “If it’s time for you to get a booster, please do so right away.”

Mitchell said data from Europe is “exceptionally clear” that boosters restore immunity, protect from COVID-19 and can in turn help cases drop and ease burdens placed on hospitals.

At the same time, he also said the community needs to “continue that conversation” in persuading those who’ve yet to get a COVID-19 vaccine to get their dose.

When asked about how to persuade those who are unvaccinated, McKee said it’s critical to listen their concerns but be compassionate and factual when talking to them.

“That often seems to work. As time goes on, the amount of data (on COVID vaccines) is staggering… That’s what we try to focus on,” she said.