COVID-19 vaccine

OKLAHOMA CITY — The state has begun implementing the second phase of its COVID-19 vaccination plan, which targets first responders and an additional group of health care workers.

Assuming the vaccine supply remains sufficient, officials then plan to start administering the vaccine to Oklahomans age 65 and older, said Keith Reed, the state’s deputy commissioner of health.

He said Oklahoma had always planned to roll out the vaccine in an overlapping manner versus waiting for 100% completion in one group before starting another to ensure efficient use of resources and to maximize available vaccine and vaccinators.

As of Dec. 24, the state had received 122,750 doses of the vaccine and administered 29,725, he said.

“We recognized uptake is important, and we continue to prioritize getting vaccine doses to people,” Reed said. “However, we are not currently concerned at the uptake rates we have seen among our Phase 1 groups.”

He said health officials also are pleased with the rate that the vaccine has rolled out to all 77 Oklahoma counties.

“Progress through the distribution plan has a lot to do with the supply of the vaccine doses available and making it accessible to additional priority groups, rather than solely based on uptake,” he said. “As the state continues to receive supply and set up additional access points in communities, we will continue to have the ability to serve additional population groups.”

Tribal vaccinations

Rear Admiral Travis Watts, director of the Oklahoma City Area Indian Health Service, said vaccines have also started to arrive for tribal members.

He said Oklahoma’s tribes were given the opportunity to choose between receiving vaccine supply from the state or the federal agency. Oklahoma’s 38 tribal nations and their associated health care systems chose to use Indian Health Service as their distribution system. The agency’s jurisdiction also includes tribes in Texas and Kansas.

In all, more than 8,700 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine and 8,900 doses of Moderna have arrived for tribal use since Dec. 14, Watts said, adding that they’re expecting another 12,000 doses over the next two weeks.

During the past two weeks, the focus has been on getting tribal health care workers vaccinated. That focus is now shifting to tribal elders and those who have co-morbidities along with essential frontline workers, Watts said.

“As we move through the administration of those doses, it’s been really a remarkable efforts,” Watts said. “It’s really given the health system hope when the health system had little hope from a standpoint of the pandemic.”

'Excellent start'

Dr. George Monks, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said the state is off to an “excellent start” with more than 30,000 people vaccinated.

Oklahoma will ultimately need about 70% of people to get vaccinated in order to obtain herd immunity — or community protection from the virus, he said.

Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU Health chief quality officer, said there are logistical challenges with administering the new vaccines.

He said his health care system alone has administered more than 5,000 doses, but the state’s vaccination system has at least a 24-hour lag time from when doses are given and when they appear in the state’s dashboard.

“Logistically the vaccines are a bit tougher to give,” he said. “Our team can give about 90 an hour.”

Bratzler said they can give other vaccines much faster, but they have to keep people who receive the COVID-19 shots there for at least 15 minutes to watch for any allergic reactions.

Health officials Tuesday also acknowledged there is still widespread skepticism about the efficacy and safety of the COVID-19 vaccines across the country.

Dr. George Diaz, infection prevention manager at Providence Regional Medical Center, in Everett, Washington, said uptake among physicians at his facility is greater than 90%; among nurses, acceptance is around 40%.

Bratzler said the uptake ratio is similar at OU Health, though the holiday week may be impacting the acceptance rate. The health care system will begin its big vaccination push next week.

“I think it’s early,” he said. “We’re still learning how to do this, and we’re still working on the best ways to educate people about benefits, the risk-benefits of the vaccine.”

The state Health Department Tuesday said it commissioned a survey of 1,500 Oklahomans in an effort to gauge how many planned to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Dec.4-9 survey conducted by Amber Integrated found that 65% intend to to get the vaccine when it is available to them. Oklahomans between the ages of 18 and 49 and women were among those who wanted more information before taking it. Those reluctant to receive the vaccine said they feared potential side effects or needed additional information on its efficacy.

Diaz attributes COVID-19 vaccine uptake reluctance to misinformation regarding adverse effects or rumors. He said adverse effects are rare.

“One of the things that is really important for local health departments in the state is to really fight that misinformation that is occurring because there is a very active program of anti-vaccination folks that are spreading these things,” Diaz said. “(It) requires a lot of education and fighting misinformation out there about the vaccine.”

Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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