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As vaccines ramp up and virus sequencing set to start, COVID-19 testing still key, Oklahoma epidemiologist says

As vaccines ramp up and virus sequencing set to start, COVID-19 testing still key, Oklahoma epidemiologist says

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"We are excited about the sequencing, ... but in the grand scheme of things, that's only relevant if people seek out testing," State Epidemiologist Jared Taylor said.

Around the same time Oklahoma is projected to meet a milestone 1 million vaccinations, the state will be able to sequence samples of COVID-19 to track how far the virus and its variants have permeated.

The state’s public health lab houses the Oklahoma Pandemic Center for Innovation and Excellence, where staff are working to get genome sequencing capabilities for COVID-19 operational and validated within the next two weeks.

The P.1 and B.1.1.7 variants were confirmed as of mid-February through the CDC’s enhanced surveillance program, state epidemiologists have said, estimating that more strains are likely present but are yet to be confirmed.

Existing vaccines for COVID-19 are expected to have similar efficacy on the variants, according to State Epidemiologist Jared Taylor.

As many as 330,000 doses of Pfizer, Moderna and the new Johnson & Johnson vaccines are expected in Oklahoma’s shipments in the next two weeks, Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed said Thursday. The one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, expected to get its emergency use authorization soon, has about an 85% success rate at preventing serious illness and hospitalization, Reed said.

Nearly 936,000 doses have been administered in Oklahoma as of Wednesday, Reed said, including those who’ve gotten vaccines through tribes and Veterans Administration programs.

Oklahoma’s goal is to sequence 10% of coronavirus samples in the state to identify and track new strains “much more rapidly and at a much larger rate,” Taylor said. He said currently less than one-tenth of 1% of samples are sequenced through collaborative efforts with the CDC.

“We are excited about the sequencing ... but in the grand scheme of things, that’s only relevant if people seek out testing,” Taylor said. He urged Oklahomans to get tested if they are in a high-risk setting, exhibit symptoms or had exposure to the virus, even if they have been vaccinated.

Genome sequencing reveals part of the genetic makeup of the virus, considered a critical piece of information in anticipating mutations and improving the public health response to virus variations.

“Really the United States is severely behind the global curve in our ability for sequencing the coronavirus,” Taylor said. “We’re excited to have the opportunity to scale up and ... blend clinical diagnosis, disease surveillance and research investigation in near-real time to inform us in all of those domains.”

By the numbers

935,457: Total vaccinations administered to Oklahomans, including federal allocations

841,011: Vaccinations administered through the state to Oklahomans

285,325: Oklahomans who have received both vaccine doses through the state

53: Percentage of Oklahomans 65 or older who’ve gotten at least one dose through the state

301,000: Estimate of doses to be shipped for state allocation next week

30,000: Rumored number of Johnson & Johnson doses Oklahoma might expect the first week it is available

Source: Oklahoma State Department of Health, as of Feb. 24


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"We are excited about the sequencing, ... but in the grand scheme of things, that's only relevant if people seek out testing," State Epidemiologist Jared Taylor said.

Q&A: State vaccination portal help and other guidance as rollout expands to teachers, those with comorbidities

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