Jill Biden visits Southwest US amid vaccine push

·3 min read

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — First lady Jill Biden is kicking off a three-day, two-state visit to the U.S. Southwest with a tour of a vaccination clinic in New Mexico, where early efforts to get people registered for shots helped to propel the state's standing as a national leader in vaccine distribution.

Wednesday’s tour comes as the nation is set to meet President Joe Biden’s goal of administering 200 million coronavirus doses in his first 100 days in office. The president is expected to outline his administration’s latest plans to motivate more Americans to get shots as demand diminishes.

In New Mexico, nearly 39% of residents 16 and older have been fully vaccinated. While eligibility was expanded earlier this month as part of the Biden administration's push, the focus is now shifting to younger people ahead of the summer break.

State health officials also are recruiting trusted voices in local communities to respond to skepticism about vaccine efficacy and safety. The first lady had encouraging words for three people waiting for shots at a clinic in Albuquerque.

“I've had the shot and it doesn't hurt,” she said at the clinic where staff have been working overtime and on weekends to immunize more people.

One women told Biden she was hesitant at first because she didn’t know what she was going to be putting into her body, but she ultimately changed her mind. After the quick jab, she encouraged other people to get vaccinated to help New Mexico keep infections down.

Biden was accompanied by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, whose administration has been working to ensure that shots are distributed to rural and underserved areas through mobile clinics and partnerships with community health organizations.

At a drive-thru vaccination clinic in remote Mora County on Tuesday, health workers and members of a volunteer medical corps sped through a list of registered patients and offered shots of the Moderna vaccine to unregistered companions and a few passersby. Emergency technicians fanned out at day's end, travelling down dirt roads to administer shots to homebound elderly residents in a sprawling county with just 4,500 residents who are 80% Latino. Mora is among the poorest counties in the nation.

The clinic’s lead pharmacist, Uri Bassan, said local vaccinations efforts are shifting toward eligible high school students before they disperse on vacation and to summer jobs and college.

Melvin Maestas, 44, heard of the clinic by word of mouth and arrived with his 81-year-old father, who has dementia. They both received doses.

“To me it’s a relief. I’m worried that it’s starting to come up again,” Maestas said of infection rates.

As part of her swing through the Southwest, the first lady also will travel to the Navajo Nation, where she will meet Thursday with Navajo President Jonathan Nez and first lady Phefelia Nez in Window Rock, Arizona, before delivering a radio address. She is scheduled to attend a listening session Friday with Navajo students before taking a tour of a vaccination site.

Biden and the governor wrapped up their quick visit by handing out buttons and stickers.

Susan Montoya Bryan And Morgan Lee, The Associated Press