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Uri Bassam radiates purpose. “I got my shot just before Christmas. My first feeling was relief. Then guilt that I got it before anyone else. And then a sense of responsibility.” Bassam is on a mission to vaccinate as many people in rural, at-risk and underserved populations as possible. “I feel like I am fulfilling my destiny.”
Working 7 days a week since December, Bassam and his teams of volunteers have vaccinated 25,000 New Mexico residents. Volunteers in Columbus traveled from Albuquerque, Taos, Hillsboro, Farmington, Corrales and Deming. They are a tight knit, efficient team that has built comradery while bolstering immunity.
“A lot of people volunteered so that they could be first in line to get the vaccine,” said Susan McGrath of Corrales. “They stayed on because it’s such an emotional experience.”
Today, they set up shop at the Fire Station in Columbus. Originally scheduled as a “one-and-done” Johnson & Johnson vaccine clinic, the team swiftly pivoted to Moderna when the J&J vaccine distribution was paused on Tuesday due to suspected blood clots. Bassam and his team return on May 14 to deliver second doses.
The team specializes in areas that are often high on risk, low on communication. “We rely on word of mouth. We’ve had a lot of walk ins today,” said Bassam. “Often when we do these, people get vaccinated, get excited and then go home and get their neighbors.”
Bassam, a pharmacist with Albertsons, works in partnership with the New Mexico Department of Aging & Long-Term Services. The government agency and national grocery store built an unlikely partnership that hinges on delivering vaccines first to those often served last. “Governor Lujan has taken a ‘high risk first’ approach to vaccine delivery. Don’t wait—get them out quickly,” said Katrina Hotrum-Lopez, Cabinet Secretary of the Department of Aging and Long-Term Care.
New Mexico is leading the nation in vaccine delivery as a percentage of population with 37.3% fully vaccinated, according to the CDC dashboard. The state Department of Health has allocated 6,000 vaccines per week to the DALTC due to their effectiveness and speed of delivery.
Asked what message is most important for the general population, Hotrum-Lopez said, “The pandemic is not over. We still need to social distance and wear masks. We’re protecting our most at risk and vulnerable–those who don’t have a voice.”