'This is big.' Oklahoma expands vaccinations to additional 2.5 million residents

Employees from the Pittsburg County Health Department ready doses of the COVID-19 vaccine Thursday for frontline healthcare workers at the McAlester Regional Healthcare Center.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Starting Tuesday, the state will expand its COVID-19 vaccine access to another 2.5 million Oklahomans, including those who work in critical infrastructure jobs, as well as college students, faculty and staff.

“This is big,” said Keith Reed, deputy commissioner of health. “This is a big step when we look at the different phases. This means that we are bringing on the vast majority of Oklahomans. So at this point, the vast majority of Oklahomans are eligible to get vaccinated.”

Reed said newly eligible Oklahomans should expect to receive registration emails Tuesday morning.

“We want to get everybody vaccinated if possible by summer, so we’re just going to keep pushing forward with this and as we can move through the phases in as timely a manner as we can because we have a big goal of getting everybody (vaccinated) by the summer,” said Dr. Lance Frye, the state’s interim health commissioner.

The state also planned to launch a new Spanish language vaccine portal overnight Monday, Reed said.

Health care workers, first responders, Oklahomans 65 and older, those with comorbidities and school personnel remain eligible for the vaccine. On Friday, the state also authorized COVID-19 vaccinations in state prisons, city and county jails, homeless shelters and workplaces where social distancing is not possible, along with public transit systems. Elected city, state and county officials are also eligible for the vaccine.

As of Monday, more than 1.3 million doses of the vaccines have been administered in Oklahoma, Reed said; more than 395,000 people had completed the full shot series.

Reed said health officials have seen appointment capacity open up in some parts of the state, and need to take advantage of that in order to ensure that vaccines are administered as quickly as possible.

“The door remains open for all the previous groups we’ve had,” he said. “We just feel like we want to maximize the capacity that we have now and make sure it opened up for more Oklahomans.”

Reed said only about 500,000 Oklahomans over the age of 16 remain in the state’s fourth and final phase.

“When we open up to that group we’re too early to say at this point, but the way vaccine inventory is increasing, access points open up, the way we’re progressing through this group, I’m hoping we’re there before too long for sure,” he said. “We have big goals to get our summer back.”

Reed said the state has been helped by an increased supply for COVID-19 vaccines, adding the state’s supply is nearly double what it was about six weeks ago.

Reed said the state expects about 170,000-plus doses in the coming week. That total does not include any vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, which offers a one-shot alternative. He said health officials also expect more doses of that in the coming weeks.

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

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