With 11,500 doses coming on top of a 5% increase in COVID-19 vaccines expected to ship next week, more vaccination sites will open at select Oklahoma pharmacies, with appointments not requiring the state’s online portal.
Just over 372,000 first doses have been administered through the state, Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed said Wednesday, or about 12% of Oklahomans who are older than 16. The vaccine is not recommended for younger patients.
That figure would not include tribal members vaccinated through Cherokee Nation, Osage Nation and Muscogee (Creek) Nation. About 22,000 Native-descent Oklahomans have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine through tribal health care centers.
When asked about Oklahoma’s No. 7 ranking in the U.S. for per capita vaccinations, Reed said: “We’re never satisfied with where we’re at. ... We want to be one of the top five states to reach 25% being vaccinated.”
The state has vaccinated 40% of Oklahomans 65 and older, Reed said. Health Commissioner Lance Frye said the expectation is to get about halfway through that group by next week. It’s still not enough, they said, to open up appointments to those younger than 65 with comorbidities, the next priority group.
Frye said he prods Reed daily about the “when” for that group, which includes teachers. As for educators 65 and older, officials are working on partnerships to offer clinics so that group wouldn’t have to schedule appointments through the online portal.
“We hope before too long we have enough of that phase of priority group vaccinated that we’ll be able to open it up to the next group and keep moving forward with this vaccination plan,” Frye said.
The officials said they don’t want any older Oklahomans to be left behind, as they’ve “not forgotten” how many people are having continued problems finding vaccine appointments. They are heartened by news of increased shipments from the government and rumors of an even bigger boost from Pfizer’s increased manufacturing.
Next week, Reed said 107,500 doses are expected compared to last week’s 103,000, not including the 11,500 that will go to select pharmacies.
About 75 pharmacies at Walmart Supercenter stores, as well as some others that are part of the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network, will directly schedule appointments based on the amount of doses they receive.
Reed cautioned Oklahomans from inundating their local pharmacies because the rollout only covers a fraction of pandemic providers available to administer vaccinations.
“They will all be limited to maybe 100-200 doses, enough to work through a week at a time, not to set up large events,” he said.
The providers have discussions with state officials about support before they receive vaccines, Reed said. “That pharmacy better be prepared to know they’re going to be hammered with phone calls.”
Walmart pharmacy customers should be able to schedule through Walmart.com. According to an official from RxSelect CPESN, the affiliated pharmacies receiving doses will not be publicized widely initially.
"Individual pharmacies will be reaching out to their local communities, so (residents) can look to their websites or Facebook pages for vaccine information," said James Allen of Pharmacy Providers of Oklahoma.
LIFE Senior Services is helping seniors who don’t have an email address nor friends or family who can help them register with the state’s portal and obtain a vaccine appointment. President and CEO Eileen Bradshaw on Tuesday said her Tulsa-based nonprofit is working with Morton Comprehensive Health Services, which has earmarked some doses for seniors without email.
Seniors who need help can call LIFE’s SeniorLine at 918-664-9000 ext. 1136.
“You may have to wait a couple of days for a callback because (in the months) prior to us helping with the vaccine, we might get 700 or 800 calls in a month and we’re having some days now where we’re getting 1,800 calls,” Bradshaw said.
They’ve added “reinforcements” who work Wednesday nights when appointments are added to the portal to book times, she said, and then they call seniors back and print off information for them.
Frye said he’s glad for those who are helping older Oklahomans get appointments through the state portal.
“That’s why we’re delaying opening it up to the next (priority group) — so those who are more technologically advanced don’t make it more difficult for them.”
Editor's note: This story was updated after publication to include updated tribal vaccination numbers, CEPSN pharmacy contact information and current COVID-19 vaccination figures.
Corey Jones contributed to this story.
By the numbers
96,215: Oklahomans who've completed the vaccination series through the state
372,053: Prime doses the state has administered through Feb. 3
12: Percentage of Oklahomans older than 16 with at least one dose through state effort
11,500: Doses going to pharmacies next week
75: Number of pharmacies first to receive a small amount of doses
107,550: Doses expected to ship to the state next week
22,000: Estimated number of native Oklahomans vaccinated through tribal health care centers
Sources: OSDH, Cherokee Nation, Osage Nation, Muscogee (Creek Nation)