OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts are being hampered by a lack of federal communication and supply even as demand for the vaccine continues to exceed availability, state health officials said Monday.
With COVID-19 case numbers soaring, Dr. Lance Frye, the state’s interim health commissioner, said nearly every single available dose — more than 174,900 — had already been spoken for Monday by health care workers, long-term care residents, first responders, and now Oklahomans age 65 years and older.
Frye said Oklahoma officials are distributing every dose that comes in so that nothing is sitting unused. They’re banking that the federally run Operation Warp Speed vaccination program will keep its commitment to ship the necessary secondary booster doses in the coming weeks.
“Our vaccine roll out can only go as quickly as we’re getting supplies from the federal government,” Frye said.
Keith Reed, deputy commissioner of health, said nearly 32,550 doses arrived this week. Another 13,650 were diverted to vaccinate long-term care residents around the state.
Within minutes of being posted online, health care workers, first responders, and those 65 and older snapped up nearly every appointment for a publicly available vaccination.
“Any concern that people aren’t interested in getting a vaccine is pretty much out the window from what I can tell because we are getting a lot of calls and a lot of interest out there on getting vaccinations and getting appointments,” Reed said.
Oklahoma, though, won’t learn from the federal government until Tuesday morning how many doses will arrive next week.
That lack of communication is further hampering vaccination efforts, he said. Currently, local health departments cannot set up vaccination clinics more than a week out.
“Until we get better information from Operation Warp Speed at the federal level and better understand how much vaccine we have moving forward, we really have do to this one week at a time,” Reed said.
Health officials reported Monday that phones lines are clogged. They’ve also heard reports that people were driving hundreds of miles beyond their county lines just to secure an appointment. While officials strongly discouraged it, other Oklahomans reportedly planned to show up at fully booked clinics in hopes of getting vaccinated. Some people living in bordering states were also reportedly trying to sign up for shots earmarked specifically for Oklahoma residents.
Reed, meanwhile, said the state is wrestling with how to ensure equity in distributing the vaccine.
The state plans to rely on an internet application, which will be unveiled later this week, to handle its vaccine appointment signups. Large swaths of the state though don’t have reliable internet, smartphone or home computer access.
In a Twitter post Monday, House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said she remains concerned about ensuring equal access to the vaccine. She’s heard from Oklahomans across the state who struggled to access appointments last week.
“I’ll continue working on it and sharing information,” she said.
Equity is not an easy question to answer, Reed said.
“This is going to be a very difficult process,” he said. “It’s going to be a long process, and there’s going to be a lot of challenges. In order to try to keep everything completely, completely fair on the same level that’s going to be a very difficult thing. Those that are quicker on the draw are likely to get the vaccine quicker, unfortunately, in some of these cases.”
Frye said he’s hopeful the state will have enough vaccine soon that there will not be a waiting list because of lack of federal supply.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.