With COVID-19 infections at record high levels in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State Department of Health is racing to vaccinate as many people as possible even as it asks the public to be patient.
Emergency responders, health care workers and some people age 65 and over received vaccinations in Payne County this week. All three PODS, held Thursday, Monday and Tuesday at the Payne County Expo Center, filled quickly.
More vaccination clinics are planned but they haven’t been scheduled yet, OSDH Region 3 Health Educator Tony Reid told the News Press.
There won’t be a clear delineation between the vaccination phases and people from groups prioritized in previous phases who were missed can still get vaccinated later, she said.
“We have always planned to roll out the vaccine in an overlapping manner versus waiting for 100% completion of one group before starting another,” OSDH Deputy Commissioner Keith Reed said in a department release. “This helps ensure efficient use of resources to maximize available vaccine and vaccinators. Moving into a new priority group does not close the door on the previous groups, it simply adds another opportunity for more vaccinations.”
For now, the focus remains on frontline medical providers, emergency responders, allied health workers and people age 65 and over.
Other groups in Phase 2, like people with comorbidities – chronic health conditions that put them at greater risk from COVID-19 – and teachers and school support staff are not currently eligible to be vaccinated.
The major determining factors are vaccine supply, scheduling availability and staffing for the vaccination Point of Delivery sites or PODS where vaccines are administered, she said.
Some people in Payne County became concerned about missing their chance this week when they weren’t able to get through on the phone line at the Payne County Health Department to schedule an appointment. Health Department officials have said that was due to the overwhelming number of calls the office received.
In spite of some members of the public expressing hesitancy about taking a new vaccine produced in a shorter than usual period of time, demand has been high.
“It’s stressful but we’re also happy to see how many people are interested wanting them,” Reid said.
The Oklahoma State Department is launching an online scheduling portal, which should be operational on Thursday. The scheduling tool will be a huge improvement, she said. It also includes a screener function that asks questions and tells people where they fall within the phases laid out in the state’s vaccination plan.
Upcoming PODS will be announced through social media and local media outlets like the News Press as they are scheduled. That will also be where people can get more information about the scheduling portal when it goes live.
Not every one will need to rely on the health department clinics for vaccinations because there will also be partnerships with medical providers, local pharmacies and national chains like CVS and Walgreens.
It could be a few more weeks before those are activated because of supply, Reid said.
CVS and Walgreens also have federal contracts to provide vaccinations at long-term care facilities like nursing homes.
She said local health department officials aren’t sure when that will begin in the Stillwater area because because they aren’t coordinating that part of the vaccination effort.
In the meantime, officials at the Payne County Health Department want people to know there isn’t a list they need to be added to. There will be public alerts when there is enough vaccine to schedule more clinics.
People can call 211 for vaccine information.
If they don’t have access to the internet or don’t feel comfortable navigating the online portal when the time comes, people should ask their friends or family to help them.
Assistance will be available through partnerships with organizations like senior centers and public libraries and the Payne County Health Department can also help with that, she said.
Need to Know:
Timing is important. The COVID-19 vaccine should be administered at least 14 days before or after you receive any other vaccine. Clinical staff will ask about this while screening patients for vaccination. It’s also important to be sure you take both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to ensure maximum effectiveness.