Local vaccine event scheduled for Thursday, Noble Research donates cold storage

Michael D. Smith

Oklahoma health officials continue to adapt the state’s vaccination plan as COVID-19 case numbers and deaths continue to climb. A day after the announcement of Noble Research Institute donating cold storage units for vaccines, county health officials announced on Tuesday the ongoing rollout of vaccination distribution in Carter County.

Oklahoma has recorded 283,781 total cases of COVID-19, after 1,194 new cases were reported on Tuesday, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The number of deaths in the state linked to the disease climbed to 2,405 after 22 new deaths were reported on Tuesday.

Oklahoma has recorded 2,405 deaths linked to COVID-19 in 10 months of the coronavirus pandemic. December has accounted for more deaths than the first five months of the pandemic combined.

Carter County recorded 13 new cases of the disease on Tuesday, bringing the total to 2,644 cases since March. Over 32,000 cases of COVID-19 were presumed active statewide Tuesday with about 360 in Carter County, according to OSDH data compiled by The Ardmoreite.

The true number of cases in Oklahoma is likely higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

Also on Tuesday, OSDH announced a strategic plan to transition into phase two of a four-phase vaccine distribution plan. According to a statement, the transition will utilize “points of dispensing sites” or “PODS” across the state as a wider cross-section of Oklahomans become eligible for the vaccines.

“We’re excited to have the opportunity to expand our vaccine distribution efforts in Oklahoma,” said OSDH commissioner Dr. Lance Frye in a statement. “PODS will help us provide more efficient access points as we open up the vaccine to larger populations as we continue to gradually move into phase 2 priority groups and beyond,” he said.

Phase two will include more first responders and health care workers, along with public health staff and adults over 65 years or those with commodities, according to OSDH documents. Staff and residents of congregate housing fall under phase two priority, and K-12 teachers were added to the group this month.

More:Explore the Oklahoma State Department of Health COVID-19 vaccination plan

Since no sign-up list will be used to roll out vaccines as the distribution process moves through subsequent phases, health officials say the general public should watch for local public messaging. An online scheduling tool is also expecting in the coming weeks to help Oklahomans find their priority group.

The first shipments of two separate vaccines started to arrive in the state almost three weeks ago and have been administered to health care workers dealing directly with COVID-19 patients. Nursing home staff and residents, first responders and some other health care workers have also received vaccines as part of the distribution plan’s first phase.

In Carter County, those who fall in the phase one priority group, first responders and many others in health care can receive a vaccine at the National Guard Armory in Ardmore on Thursday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. OSDH District 8, which includes Carter County and eight surrounding counties, will conduct weekly vaccination events in Ardmore, Ada and Duncan as the phased rollout continues.

"We are excited to start providing the vaccine to community members," said OSDH regional director Mendy Spohn in a Tuesday statement. "We urge all eligible Oklahomans to get the vaccine as soon as it is available to them."

The first vial of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine used at Mercy Hospital Ardmore sits empty Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. Noble Research Institute recently donated 11 ultra-cold storage units to the Oklahoma State Department of Health to help with vaccine storage, which requires temperatures as low as -94 degrees Fahrenheit, about four times colder than a consumer freezer, according to an OSDH statement Monday.

Phase three will expand the priority group to more people in education, including students and administrative staff, as vaccine supplies meet demands. Phase four will open to all Oklahoma residents as vaccines become readily available, but the exact timetable of these final phases remains unclear.

State health officials have said one of the biggest hurdles in safely distributing one of the vaccines, known as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, is due to an extremely cold storage temperature around -94 degrees Fahrenheit. OSDH on Monday announced Noble Research Institute donated 11 ultra-cold industrial freezers for vaccine distribution efforts.

The freezers will be placed across the state, particularly in rural areas, for a long-term approach to vaccination, according to a Monday OSDH statement.

“It’s been amazing to watch how Oklahoma organizations have come together to help provide solutions to the distribution of this vaccine,” said Steve Rhines, president and CEO of Noble Research Institute, in the Monday statement. “We are pleased that these freezers will — in some small way — support communities across the state of Oklahoma.”