Susan Montoya Bryan and Morgan Lee
Associated Press

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 percent 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.

Jill Biden on Wednesday afternoon is scheduled to visit a health care clinic in Albuquerque where vaccines are being administered. She will be accompanied by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, whose administration has been working to ensure that shots are being 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, traveling down dirt roads to administer shots to homebound elderly residents in a sprawling county with just 4,500 residents who are 80 percent 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.

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