OKLAHOMA CITY — State health officials are hopeful that the federal government will start allocating Oklahoma additional COVID-19 vaccine doses in the coming weeks as demand continues to exceed supply.
Keith Reed, deputy commissioner of health, said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has told states that it will start to allocate vaccines based on "burn" rates, or usage rates.
Oklahoma currently ranks in the top 10 nationally in per capita distribution of its vaccine supply, meaning the vast majority is going into people’s arms as soon as the state receives it.
“They will continue to make adjustments in our shipment based on our ability to vaccinate,” Reed said. “Is that enough to keep up with us and give us what we want? I don’t yet know. Quite frankly, we’re going to have to find out.”
Reed said the strategy change coupled with a plan by Democratic President-elect Joe Biden to release nearly all federal doses of the COVID-19 vaccine has the potential to dramatically increase Oklahomans’ access to the life-saving vaccine in the coming days.
Biden has said he has a goal of administering 100 million COVID-19 shots in his first 100 days in office.
However, Reed said there are still a lot of questions.
Officials, for instance, still don’t know when those doses will arrive and if there will be enough to quickly expand access to other priority groups. Oklahomans with comorbidities that make them particularly susceptible to complications from the virus and school employees are the next two groups in line.
With the Biden plan to not hold back any vaccine doses, Reed said state health officials will have to also ensure there’s enough supply on hand to provide the necessary second doses required to obtain 95% immunity.
“Our future allocations are going to be based off our burn rate, off our ability to move vaccine from the freezer to the individual,” he said. “We have been assured that if we are moving vaccine in that manner that they will continue to resupply us at a rate that will meet our needs for second shots.”
But that strategy requires faith in the national vaccination program being operated by the CDC and Operation Warp Speed, and faith that the vaccine supply chain is strong enough to keep up needed supply, he said.
“We have to be very cognizant of what we are doing with our strategy and how is that going to impact Oklahoma,” Reed said. “If we have a strategy of holding back our second doses and just duplicating what Operation Warp Speed has done, then we run into the scenario where we have a slow burn rate, and then we ultimately decrease the allocation for the state. So that is not a very good option, right?”
He said the state still plans to administer the second booster doses required to obtain full protection against COVID-19.
Pfizer’s second dose is recommended 21 days after the first, while Moderna’s should be administered on the 28th day, he said. Oklahoma plans to have them available during that time period, but Reed said the second doses could be delayed a few days without decreasing the efficacy.
Dr. Jean Hausheer, chair of the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition, said the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines weren't scheduled with people just getting one dose.
“In health care, we would like to see everybody strive to get that second dose to all of us. It seemed important,” she said. “But on the other hand, we would like to see as many get vaccinated as possible.”
Recipients of Pfizer’s vaccine only have about 52% protection from COVID-19 after one dose, she said. Those receiving Moderna’s have about 80% immunity after one dose.
Immunity jumps to about 95% for both vaccines after people receive the booster dose.
“It’s critically important that everybody get two doses,” she said.
For some Oklahomans, it’s not going to be OK to only receive the partial protection from one dose, Hausheer said.
Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell said he’s extremely interested in how to continue to ramp up vaccine production so that states can get more doses. He said he and his wife plan to get vaccinated when it’s their turn.
“Oklahoma is doing a good job getting it out, but we need more of it,” he said.
Reed said the state will receive more than 48,000 doses for use next week. The state is currently vaccinating health care workers, first responders and those 65 and older.
The state’s online vaccine scheduler portal experienced heavy traffic Thursday morning as officials opened up next week’s slots. Some Oklahomans reported all appointments were booked within 100 miles of their home in less than an hour.
Reed said many Oklahomans were looking for appointments amid limited supply of the vaccine. He said some clicked on locations that showed appointments available, only to find there were none.
“This is due to heightened demand for those same appointment slots,” he said. “(The Health Department) understands this is frustrating and appreciates everyone’s patience with this process as folks continue to try to access appointments. (We) encourage Oklahomans to continue looking at open appointments (or) locations even beyond their counties if they’re able and willing to travel.”
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.