Once an early leader in COVID-19 vaccination rate, Oklahoma has fallen toward the back of the pack, according to federal government data.
Health care leaders in the state point to not just vaccine hesitancy, but complacency, a want to receive the immunization from a trusted physician, or hurdles to access.
Oklahoma ranks No. 35 for the percentage of people fully vaccinated at 28.8%. Maine is first at 37.4%, while Alabama is worst at 22.0%.
The state is No. 38 with 38.1% of its population having received at least one dose. New Hampshire is tops at 59.7%, and Mississippi last at 30.6%.
Dr. Mary Clarke, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, says there remains desire here to be vaccinated but that the medical community must meet those individuals’ comfort zones.
Clarke’s family medicine clinic in Stillwater just now is filling out paperwork to become a “pandemic provider,” or in other words, approved by the state to receive and administer COVID-19 vaccine. She said she has numerous patients who tell her they are waiting for her office to have vaccine available.
“There are quite a few patients who want their physician offices to get that vaccine because of just comfort level,” Clarke said. “It has not been particularly common that the physician offices have been the route to give them. Not because we don’t want to, but because of the requirements and the (cold) storage ability and the documentation.
“It does take extra manpower to be able to do that, and at the time of the peak of COVID there really was no extra manpower.”
There were 1,220 providers in the state with vaccine out of 1,742 enrolled pandemic providers as of Tuesday, according numbers provided by the Oklahoma State Department of Health. In Tulsa County, there were 224 of 338 pandemic providers that had vaccine to serve as access points.
OSDH has previously said it is shipping COVID-19 vaccine to any pandemic provider that asks for it, so supply isn’t a barrier.
A hurdle to address is complacency among the public.
Dr. David Chansolme, Medical Director of Infection Prevention at INTEGRIS Health, referenced his own sibling as being in that circle.
“There’s a huge chunk of vaccine complacent people,” Chansolme said. “My brother, for example, (Monday) I had to drag him to my vaccine clinic to get it. And he probably wouldn’t have gotten it if his brother wasn’t an (infectious disease) doctor.
“So there’s a lot of people out there like that.”
The federal government is helping underwrite efforts to reach folks like that, including a $124,000 grant to a Tulsa-based health information exchange to help clinicians contact high-risk patients to vaccinate.
Dr. David Kendrick, CEO of MyHealth Access Network, said the grant allows him to upload the state’s vaccination information into his nonprofit’s database so member physicians can search their patient populations to see who isn’t vaccinated.
Health care leaders underscored the importance of informed and trusted outreach.
Clarke pointed to the federally supported Community Vaccination Center at Tulsa Community College Northeast in a socioeconomic disadvantaged area as an example.
As a rural physician, Clarke offered a reminder that many people want the vaccine but still are hampered by constraints such as distance, time, transportation or internet access.
Chansolme noted that not everyone can afford to take time off from jobs nor are all employers encouraging immunization.
So hosting a mass vaccination clinic in an area with at risk-populations who are being immunized at a disproportionate rate is important, as well as deploying personnel door-to-door to spread the word.
“We’ve already picked the easy ones,” Clarke said. “The easy ones have had it. They wanted it; they got it early.
“Now we need to get to the ones who want it but are still having trouble with access.”