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State health department to manage second-dose vaccine inventory

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite

Just days after an optimistic call to pandemic providers to be prepared to vaccinate, a top state public health official said his department is “very, very frustrated” about a misrepresentation of dose management from the federal level.  

State deputy health commissioner Keith Reed said the state health department, not the federal Operation Warp Speed program, is responsible for managing second doses of two COVID-19 vaccines and that an expected federal stockpile of second doses does not exist. 

“I learned yesterday that that particular system was not necessarily as it has been presented to us,” Reed told reporters on Friday. “We were given a clear impression that for every prime dose we were receiving each week, that there was an equivalent amount of vaccine held back for a second dose. That was really a very clear message that we had received.” 

The two drugs approved for emergency use in the U.S. are manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, and both use a two-dose regimen. The Pfizer doses are given 21 days apart and Moderna doses given 28 days apart. 

By Friday morning, 214,372 doses had been administered in Oklahoma, including 185,133 first shots. The Oklahoma State Department of Health is currently managing vaccination efforts in the state, including weekly events in Ardmore, Ada and Duncan, and those eligible must currently use an online scheduling portal to find and book appointments. 

The U.S. government announced major changes to vaccine distribution Tuesday, upending what's been standard operating procedure for the past four weeks in an attempt to speed COVID-19 vaccinations, according to USA TODAY. The changes were well received in Oklahoma when Reed told reporters on Wednesday that he expected vaccines distributions to increase, even if that meant state management of second doses. 

“What I had hoped was going to happen, based off their announcement, was that we were going to get three weeks of reserve for Pfizer and four weeks of reserve for Moderna. I was hoping we were going to get that in a large inventory coming into the state and they were just going to release that to us,” Reed said.  

By Thursday, that notion fell apart.

“I’m extremely frustrated to learn that is not actually in existence and that is not coming to us,” he said. “While we’re very, very frustrated the way this was communicated and the impression that we were given – had been given in the past few weeks – it’s just another example of why we had to remain so nimble and agile in this vaccination effort.” 

He first learned of the federal inventory discrepancy on Thursday while speaking with his contact from Operation Warp Speed, who Reed indicated was just as surprised by the revelation. He learned more details later on Thursday through media reports. 

“I’m not saying that somebody intentionally misrepresented that – our contacts, that was the impression they had – but I would say when that program changed, we were not informed of it,” Reed said. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Donald Trump oversees Operation Warp Speed and the distribution of federally acquired vaccines. A request for comment on Friday evening remained unanswered by press time.

Oklahoma has been receiving between 30,000 and 50,000 doses of vaccines each week and those numbers are likely to continue. Oklahoma is expected to receive an additional 48,475 doses next week and Reed has said that wasted doses have been extremely rare in the state.

Inventory remains the main hurdle for slow vaccine rollout in the state, despite Oklahoma being among the best states for vaccines. Reed said national data shows Oklahoma ranks seventh in the nation for vaccinations administered per capita and many federal suggestions to states have already been implemented by OSDH, including vaccinating those 65 and over before all front line workers received their vaccines.  

Reed hopes the relatively successful rollout of vaccination points of dispensing, or PODs, in Oklahoma will lead to bigger weekly shipments but remains cautious considering a new administration under President-elect Joe Biden that begins Wednesday could mean more unexpected changes.  

Until federal guidance stabilizes and the number of vaccine shipments increase, Reed said a major priority will continue to be getting vaccines into the arms of Oklahomans based on weekly shipments. Considering the department's new role in managing second doses, priority moving forward will be given to booster shots with initial doses administered with excess inventory. 

“We are going to take steps necessary to make ensure we have second-dose inventory available for our citizens,” he said. 

Oklahoma front line workers, first responders, long-term care facility staff and residents, and those over 65 years old are eligible to register for a vaccine appointment. Appointments are only available about a week in advance and can be scheduled on the state government’s website, https://vaccinate.oklahoma.gov. 

Due to the large volume of individuals visiting the portal and the resulting volume of email notifications to be sent, the state's notification system is issuing emails on a batch basis in the order in which registrations occurred. As a result, some emails may be delayed but should be received within 24 hours during these peak volume times.