EDITORIAL: Collins led vaccine efforts that saved lives in New Mexico

Jul. 8—After just over six months in one of the most challenging jobs in state government — leading the rollout of efforts to push New Mexicans to herd immunity from COVID-19 through vaccinations — Dr. Tracie Collins is stepping down as secretary of health.

The departure by Collins, a physician who succeeded Kathy Kunkel in the post, is no surprise. She took the job with the understanding she might return to academia after overseeing vaccination efforts. Collins had served as dean of the University of New Mexico's College of Population Health before accepting the health secretary appointment by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, and she will return to that position.

Collins stepped up to public service at a critical time as the nation and state ramped up the rollout of three vaccines for the deadly virus that has killed more than 600,000 Americans and 4,000 New Mexicans.

"I'm proud of the work we've done to protect New Mexicans," Collins said, and the numbers bear that out.

New Mexico has been among the national leaders in getting shots in arms. The state's COVID-19 vaccine dashboard shows that as of July 6 more than 2.2 million doses of vaccine — Pfizer, Moderna or J&J — had been administered and more than 71% of New Mexicans 16 and older had received at least one dose. Nearly 63% were fully vaccinated.

And the data show the vaccines work. New cases of COVID-19 have been trending below 100 a day, with the number of people hospitalized in the 60s — a far cry from peak numbers that saw soaring deaths and cases stretching New Mexico hospitals to the limit with hundreds of very sick patients.

As health secretary, Collins makes about $156,000 a year, the standard amount most New Mexico Cabinet secretaries receive. The service she has rendered is worth a lot more.

Lujan Grisham praised Collins and said that "these last months, we've decisively put the worst of the pandemic behind us, getting shots into arms all across the state, educating people about the benefits of the vaccines and saving lives."

She said her administration would be "delighted to have her forever," but that at UNM Collins will be "preparing and training the next generation of health responders and leaders...."

Collins leaves later this month, and Lujan Grisham said Dr. David Scrase, a physician and secretary of the Human Services Department who the governor described as New Mexico's own "Dr. Fauci", will assume oversight of the Department of Health in addition to his other duties on a temporary basis.

"I ask a lot of Dr. Scrase," the governor said, "and that won't stop anytime soon."

The governor also asked a lot of Tracie Collins. New Mexicans should be grateful for her contribution.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.