Eligible University of New Mexico students, staff and faculty must receive and upload documentation of having gotten a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot by Jan. 17, the day before the spring 2022 semester is set to start in person.
Individuals are currently considered eligible by the University if they have received either the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine on or before June 15, 2021 or the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on or before Oct. 15, 2021 because of time requirements between vaccination doses. Those vaccinated after these dates have up to four weeks to upload proof following the Jan. 17 deadline.
As of Sunday, Jan. 9, 18.4% of students, 45.6% of staff and 48.8% of faculty have confirmed receiving a booster shot.
“The key step now, for everyone, is to get a vaccine booster as soon as you can,” UNM spokesperson Cinnamon Blair wrote to the Daily Lobo via email. “Vaccinated people are less likely to get COVID, and when they do they usually don’t get very sick.”
According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all three authorized COVID-19 vaccines were effective in reducing symptom severity in breakthrough cases and preventing hospitalization.
Blair said there are no current plans to return to a virtual learning environment for the spring semester.
“We have regular consultations with our internal experts to assess current conditions and adjust as needed,” Blair wrote. “At present we are proceeding with our current instructional plan.”
James Holloway, UNM provost and vice president of academic affairs, said the University is potentially looking at ways to improve the quality of masks worn by students, staff and faculty on campus by moving away from cloth masks and toward “medical masks.”
“The most important things are vaccinations and boosters,” Holloway said. “The second most important tool is good masking.”
UNM is following the state mask mandate wherein masks are required for all individuals indoors regardless of vaccination status.
The announcement of the booster requirement came shortly after the state of New Mexico issued an emergency public health order requiring a booster shot for a large majority of workers in high-risk environments, including healthcare workers and long-term care facility workers. This came with the surge of the new COVID-19 omicron variant.
“The recent emergence of the omicron variant further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19,” CDC Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in the health order. “Early data from South Africa suggest increased transmissibility of the omicron variant, and scientists in the United States and around the world are urgently examining vaccine effectiveness related to this variant.”
Holloway said the University is aiming for a fully vaccinated student, staff and faculty population.
“My goal is 100%. We really want to get everybody vaccinated … I know we won’t reach 100%, but my real hope is that we can reach that 95% level or better,” Holloway said.
John Scott is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @JScott050901