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The easiest part of El Paso’s COVID-19 vaccination effort is coming to an end

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Almost 60% of eligible El Pasoans have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. But getting shots into the arms of people not yet vaccinated will grow increasingly difficult.

Even as vaccines are increasingly available, the number of new COVID-19 infections in El Paso has remained stuck for six weeks. The number of people requiring hospital care for COVID-19 is where it was at the beginning of April.

Here’s our weekly COVID-19 data report.

Vaccinations 

Mayor Oscar Leeser and County Judge Ricardo Samaniego announced on Friday that the waiting list for COVID-19 vaccinations — which once topped 300,000 — has now been exhausted.

That means that health officials have now vaccinated the easiest-to-reach populations — people eager for the vaccine with access to social media. After rising each week since vaccines became available in December, the number of El Pasoans receiving their first vaccination declined last week.

University Medical Center announced that people can now get a first vaccine dose without an appointment by coming to the El Paso County Coliseum from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Before that, appointments were required for vaccinations.

Simply making shots available without an appointment is unlikely to draw in large numbers of people who have been reluctant to get vaccinated. That will require a more concentrated outreach effort. El Paso Matters reporter Molly Smith will have a story this week on what it will take to overcome vaccine hesitancy. 

Fewer than half of El Pasoans under age 50 have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Texas made everyone over 16 eligible for vaccines on March 29, but vaccines have been available since December for people under age 50 with health conditions or who worked in health-care jobs.

As of Friday, more than 380,000 El Pasoans have received at least one vaccine dose. Almost 240,000 — 37% of the population age 16 and older — are considered fully vaccinated.

El Paso will have plenty of vaccines available this week, with the state sending more than 40,000 first doses for the first time. 

All of the doses this week will be either Pfizer or Moderna, which require two doses for full effectiveness. The single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine should be available again in May after federal regulators on Friday approved resumption of its use.

New cases

El Paso COVID-19 infections consistently declined from our horrific peak in November through mid-March. Since then, we’ve been stuck around 1,000 cases a week. (Although last week’s numbers are currently below 1,000, delayed reporting by private labs to the state will push those numbers up in the next week.)

Because of higher vaccination rates among the older population, COVID-19 is increasingly a young person’s disease in El Paso and around the country.

Last week, 70% of the newly reported cases in El Paso were among people younger than 40. In 2020, 54% of El Paso’s COVID cases were in people younger than 40. By contrast, only 8% of new cases last week in El Paso were in people over age 60, compared to 17% in 2020. 

Hospitals

The number of COVID-19 cases requiring hospital or intensive care unit treatment had declined through most of 2021, but began rising again this month.

Deaths

The number of people dying of COVID-19 in El Paso is at its lowest level since last summer.

The high vaccination rate among people over age 65 has played a key role in lowering the number of deaths. Almost 70% of El Pasoans over age 65 have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

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Robert Moore

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986. His work has received a number of top journalism honors including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, Pulitzer Prize finalist and the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award. Moore’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Texas Monthly, ProPublica, National Public Radio, The Guardian and other publications. He has been featured as an expert on border issues by CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBC and PBS.

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