Virus Outbreak Vaccine

This May 4, 2020, file photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

OKLAHOMA CITY — While Oklahoma expects to receive its first allotment of COVID-19 vaccinations by mid-December, the immunization won’t be widely available to the general public until the first quarter of 2021, the state’s top health official said Thursday.

Dr. Lance Frye, the state’s interim commissioner of health, said the federal government is expected to give emergency use authorization to the first COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer as early as Dec. 11. After that, the vaccine will be shipped and could arrive in Oklahoma as early as Dec. 13 or 14.

“Ongoing doses will be delivered on a regular cadence after that,” Frye said.

He said a second vaccination by Moderna is expected to be approved shortly after that and should arrive by month’s end.

Frye said estimates indicate the state will initially receive 33,000 doses of Pfizer's vaccine and about 10,000 of Moderna’s, though officials also have heard Oklahoma could receive as many as 60,000 doses of the latter.

The federal government is paying for COVID-19 vaccines to be administered free of cost the public, Frye said.

“This does not mean that the general public will have access to the vaccine at that time,” Frye said.

Health care workers, long-term care staff and residents, and public health employees that are administering COVID-19 testing and vaccinations will be first in line.

Keith Reed, a deputy commissioner of health, said state’s “Priority 1 group” is comprised of about 115,000 Oklahomans.

The “Priority 2 group,” includes nearly 763,000 Oklahomans, ranging from first responders, those 65 and older, additional classifications of health care workers and staff and residents living or working in congregate facilities like homeless shelters, group homes, prisons or jails and manufacturing facilities.

The third priority group encompasses about 2.5 million Oklahomans, including teachers, students, and critical infrastructure personnel.

Finally, a fourth phase will cover everyone else, a state Health Department official said.

Frye said a foundation donated 11 ultra-cold storage freezers to house the vaccines. Those have been distributed so that every region around the state will have one.

Vaccine shipments will be sent to several pre-determined sites based on location, the ability to store and handle the vaccine and a willingness to participate in the program. From there, doses will be redistributed to select primary health systems and county health departments to more effectively reach key populations statewide.

Officials are particularly focused on access in rural areas, and are looking for health care providers willing to administer the vaccines.

Frye said some people could get their vaccine earlier than their scheduled phase. If someone has 1,000 doses, but only needs 800, they’ll be instructed to administer the remainder to those still waiting for their vaccine.

“We’re not going to waste any vaccine,” Frye said.

Ultimately, Reed said multiple factors will determine widespread vaccination availability.

One issue is the rate at which manufacturing and delivery keeps up with demand. The state’s timeline requires having a sufficient, uninterrupted supply.

Oklahoma’s plans also hinge on uptake, meaning the number of people that are interested in getting vaccinated will determine how fast the state moves through the different phases and gets it to the general public.

“Please keep in mind that an effort of this magnitude will not happen overnight,” Reed said. “It will take some time and our efforts will continue over the days, weeks and months following initial receipt of the vaccine. We ask for patience and understanding as we progress through this very complicated endeavor.”

Long-term care facilities will receive their doses through a different allocation. The federal government will distribute those through a partnership plan with specific pharmacies, Reed said. That program is expected to follow initial implementation by one to two weeks and run concurrent to the state’s efforts.

The majority of the state’s tribes also have opted to receive their allotments from the federal government rather than the state, he said.

While the state Department of Health will not mandate vaccination uptake in places like prisons and long-term care facilities, Frye said hospitals could mandate the immunizations as could individual nursing homes and correctional facilities as a condition of residing or working there.

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

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