State keeping focus on COVID-19 vaccine priority groups to keep appointments open for vulnerable Oklahomans

TULSA, Okla. — The Oklahoma State Department of Health says Oklahomans age 65 and older will continue to be a priority for COVID-19 vaccines in the coming weeks because they realize when they open it up to younger groups, those people will be more tech-savvy and will take up the open appointment slots.

Oklahoma Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed said between the number of seniors calling 211 for appointments and many of those who are 65 and older needing help using a computer, they want to make sure that those who will struggle the most to make an appointment have ample time to get a vaccination appointment.

Reed said 28% of age 65 or older Oklahomans have started the vaccination process.

“I know it seems painfully slow, but it’s actually moving very quick,” Reed said about people being frustrated with the process.

He said there is real concern about opening up the vaccine appointment portal to other groups because those groups know how to use technology, and once they open up the website to younger people to make appointments, it will likely be impossible for a senior who struggles with a computer or smartphone to get an appointment.

Reed said the progress being made among seniors is encouraging, and the state will not move forward until it is confident every senior who wants a vaccine gets a vaccine.

“This group has been the hardest hit of them all, and we want to make sure they get what they need,” he said about the data surrounding hospitalizations and deaths and why 65 and older is the sole focus right now.

The next group to get the vaccine will be people younger than 65 with comorbidities, teachers, and others, and those groups are expected to snatch up appointments even faster than the seniors have been doing so.

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Seniors without computers are asked to call 211 for assistance which has actually cut down on how long people are waiting on hold to get help. From there, their information will be forwarded to their county health department where an appointment will be made.

OSDH and Tulsa Health were concerned that too many seniors were driving around the state to get the vaccine in recent weeks, and now more doses have been shifted to THD’s point of distribution to open up more appointments in Tulsa for Tulsa County residents.

THD announced it was no longer holding back as many second booster doses as it planned in order to open up more first initial dose spots as they try to process through the current eligible recipients.

THD announced last week that anyone who needs a second dose can get one without having to fight for a new appointment on the state’s vaccination portal, and they can just show up when it’s time. However, they need to have received their first dose at the THD site, and they must have their vaccination card with them as proof.

Second doses are administered 21 days after the first for Pfizer and 28 days after the first dose of Moderna’s vaccine, but data shows that doesn’t have to be an exact time. Someone can go three to five weeks after the recommended return date and still get the full effect of the vaccine, but no longer than that.

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OSDH requires all points of distribution in all counties to “burn through” their stock in seven days of getting it as a goal of getting as much vaccine doses into as many people as possible.

“If it’s in the freezer, it needs to quickly turn around and be in an arm,” Reed said.

The Federal government, no longer using the name Operation Warp Speed, but just “The Operation” will penalize a state for sitting on vaccine doses or showing it still has excess from a previous allocation.

After an executive order from President Biden, the state announced Wednesday it was going to receive a 16% increase in doses starting next week.

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