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Wayne Greene: State's COVID-19 vaccine efforts target more complacent populations

Wayne Greene: State's COVID-19 vaccine efforts target more complacent populations

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Earlier this month, the state took its COVID-19 vaccination effort to a rural Oklahoma rattlesnake hunt.

Don’t get bit. Get immunized.

It’s part of the Oklahoma Health Department’s evolving effort to get more Oklahomans vaccinated against the potentially deadly virus, Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed told me.

“We want to meet people where they’re at,” Reed said.

High demand was a problem early in the vaccination campaign. The state didn’t have enough vaccine, and it had a highly motivated demographic — those over age 65 — wanting it quickly.

That made mass vaccination pods the way to go. People who were at the highest risk of death from the virus were highly motivated. They were ready to line up and wait.

As of last week, Reed said, 77.6% of the Oklahomans over age 65 had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine; 62% were fully vaccinated. Those numbers continue to grow, he said. It was a great success.

Mass vaccination efforts still have a role to play.

Recently, the Biden administration announced a community vaccination center will open April 21 at the Tulsa Community College Northeast Campus, 3727 East Apache St.

The center will provide the opportunity to administer up to 21,000 vaccinations per week for eight weeks.

But eventually the state will have to be more aggressive about going out and finding people for their vaccinations.

Oklahoma once was in the top 10 in vaccination rates. Last week, it had slipped to 23rd place.

As of Wednesday, the state’s fully vaccinated rate stood at 24.4% and, while continuing to grow, needs more pace. We’re still a long, long way from herd immunity.

Reed wants to keep the ball moving, and that means targeting some demographics that have been missing.

That means you, guys.

Fifty-six percent of the vaccinations have been received by women.

It also means convincing younger Oklahomans that vaccination is important even if their cohort isn’t as clearly threatened by the disease.

State figures show 17.3% of those age 18-35 have been vaccinated. In the 36-49 class, it’s 18%.

Part of that is certainly that young people haven’t been eligible for vaccination as long as their parents and grandparents, but it may also reflect less concern about the threat posed by the virus.

There may be more complacency about vaccination in rural areas.

Some 38.3% of the people over age 16 in Tulsa County have been vaccinated. In Oklahoma County, it’s 40%. The state average is 34.9%.

But in rural Woods County, it’s only 31.8%. In Rogers Mills County, it’s 26.7%, In Alfalfa County, it’s 25.8%.

There’s a lot of complex psychology in raising those vaccination rates, but Reed says it comes down to one strategy: taking vaccine to the people.

“There’s a lot of people who are willing to be vaccinated, but it’s got to be easy,” Reed said.

So, have it waiting at the pharmacy, at the Walmart and at the rattlesnake hunt.

And the most important place to be pushing vaccine is at the doctor’s office, where more resistant issues can be resolved.

The rural man who might not trust Dr. Anthony Fauci will probably listen to his doctor.

Vaccination is safe, effective and free.

It’s also the only way we can ever have a truly open society again.

If you want to pack the stands for football games and eat indoors in restaurants, get vaccinated and get your neighbor and your friends in Alfalfa County to do the same.

Word of the week: Ha-ha: No, not the sound you make when you laugh. It’s a recessed barrier used in landscape design to stop wildlife or other things without obstructing the view. In “Mansfield Park,” Jane Austen describes an outing among pretentious young women: “After sitting a little while Miss Crawford was up again. ‘I must move,’ said she; ‘resting fatigues me. I have looked across the ha-ha till I am weary. I must go and look through that iron gate at the same view, without being able to see it so well.’”

Featured video:

Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed talks about state efforts to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19

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Editorial Pages Editor

I'm the editorial pages editor of the Tulsa World and a political columnist. A fourth-generation Oklahoman, I previously served as the World’s city editor for 13 years and as a reporter at the state Capitol of four years. Phone: 918-581-8308

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