OKLAHOMA CITY — Even as Oklahoma City Public Schools announced plans Tuesday to hold a vaccination clinic for school staff, state health officials said it’s too soon to know when COVID-19 vaccines will be widely available to all educators.
Keith Reed, deputy commissioner of health, said while some educators 65 and older have started receiving their COVID-19 vaccines, he said supply is ultimately going to determine when teachers get their turn.
“It’s way too premature for me to be able to estimate that because again … it’s about vaccine inventory,” Reed said Tuesday. “I just don’t know when we’ll have enough vaccine inventory that we will be able to move to those groups. I am not prepared to make a prediction (on) when that’s going to happen. I would hope that would be sooner rather than later, but still too much is still in question.”
The state’s vaccine access is being crippled by a lack of federal supply. State health officials had been awaiting a boost in supply after both President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden promised to release all federal doses held in reserve. But late last week, Oklahoma health officials said they were frustrated to learn that the federal government actually had no doses in reserve.
As a result, Reed said Oklahoma’s allotment will largely remain the same though the state will now receive both primary and secondary doses in the same shipments. That will further complicate inventory allotment. Both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines require two doses.
Education advocates said that’s left most districts in a holding pattern, awaiting availability.
However, in a letter to employees Tuesday, Sean McDaniel, superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, said his district has partnered with a private contracted third-party provider to host a closed distribution event as early as Feb. 12.
“It is important to note that the vaccine they are making available is from a private source and not part of the state-allocated vaccine supply,” he wrote.
He also said that the date is 100% dependent on access to the doses via the third-party provider, Passport Health.
“Because our vaccine allocation will likely be intermittent and very limited, public health officials have asked district leaders to prioritize distribution for staff in a way that mirrors the prioritization hierarchy being used at the state and local level, while also considering our district’s unique planning factors,” McDaniel said.
Reed said there’s no special allotment of vaccines being set aside for schools right now.
“We will roll them into our plan as we move through the population,” he said.
Reed said the state Health Department is working with Passport Health.
"As a pandemic provider, Passport Health must follow the state's rollout plan and stick with the priority groups that have been approved," Reed said. "They can schedule a pod for the schools on Feb. 12, but if we as a state have not moved to teachers as an approved group to receive the vaccine, we cannot authorize vaccine for Passport Health to use for that purpose."
Under the state’s plan, preK-12 school personnel are still two tiers away from being vaccinated. There are an estimated 600,000 Oklahomans 65 and older who are currently eligible. Many are still waiting their turn. That’s in addition to health care workers and first responders.
Oklahomans with comorbidities will get the next access when the state expands its eligibility guidelines.
Vaccines will then be available to all school employees.
Katherine Bishop, with the Oklahoma Education Association, said there’s no still timetable on when education professionals will get their turn. Initially, state officials had hoped it would be within several weeks after winter break.
But Oklahoma’s federal vaccine allotments have been so small, it appears it now will be several more weeks, she said.
Bishop said she hasn’t heard of any educators under the age of 65 getting access to the vaccine, but said districts are already individually working on plans about how they’ll make it work.
“Kids have been learning since August,” Bishop said. “In order for us to be fully face-to-face … we know the vaccine is critically important to provide that one more layer to help with protection. Teachers are wanting to be back with their students as soon as it is safely possible to do so.”
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.