Congregate housing, government officials among newly eligible for vaccine in Oklahoma

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite

Oklahoma will open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all within Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the state’s four-phase plan beginning next week. The additional priority groups will be added less than a week after thousands of Johnson & Johnson vaccines were shipped to the state.

Among the providers in Carter County receiving the emergency-approved vaccines is Good Shepherd Community Clinic, which started administering shots to staff on Dec. 30. Chief Medical Officer Melissa Hallum said that eligible residents can call to be added to their waiting list. 

“We have multiple calls every day that get sent to us and people who are not patients of Good Shepherd will give us their name, their contact information, date of birth and then we put them on the list,” Hallum said on Thursday. “Again, first come, first serve.” 

The Good Shepherd Community Clinic facility on 12th Avenue Northwest Thursday, March 4, 2021. The clinic has administered about 350 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Other vaccine providers in the area can be found online at https://www.vaccinefinder.org/. According to USA TODAY, the project was built by Google in 2009 in response to the H1N1 pandemic and pivoted to COVID-19 response after further development by Boston Children’s Hospital, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health care technology company Castlight Health. 

More:Where’s the COVID-19 vaccine? Who’s been vaccinated? Here's how we'll know.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced on Friday that more than 21,000 people in the new priority groups statewide would become eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. OSDH Deputy Commissioner Keith Reed said the latest addition is significantly smaller than the group of K-12 teachers and those with comorbidities who became eligible last month. 

“This is not a huge group which is another reason why I say I anticipate that hopefully we can start moving into the next group much quicker while we continue our efforts with comorbidities and 65-plus through the medical system,” Reed told reporters on Friday. 

Some of those eligible for vaccines beginning Monday include staff and residents in homeless shelters, state and municipal jails and certain workplaces where social distancing isn't possible, like child care facilities and certain manufacturing facilities critical to food supply maintenance. 

Public health staff supporting front line efforts, elected leaders and senior government officials in city, county and state government will also be eligible to maintain operations and services.

Oklahoma has administered more than 1 million state-allocated doses of the vaccines since December with even more federally allotted doses going to Indian Health Services, Veterans Affairs and other federal entities. More than 426,000 Oklahomans have received their full COVID-19 vaccination, Reed said. 

While vaccines from two drug manufacturers – Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – each require two doses, a newly approved vaccine from Johnson & Johnson only requires a single shot. Oklahoma was scheduled to receive 31,500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week and Reed said on Friday that some have already been administered in Oklahoma. 

“Incoming shipments of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine will increase our overall supply and help meet our resourcing needs,” Reed said in statement later on Friday. “We are confident that our supply is now sufficient for steady vaccinations of all groups outlined in Phase 1 and Phase 2 of our plan, and we’re excited to provide those Oklahomans the opportunity to receive the vaccine."

OSDH District 8, which includes Carter County and eight surrounding counties, continues weekly vaccination events in Ardmore, Duncan and Ada. Over 32% of those in Carter County 65 or older have been completely vaccinated with state-allotted vaccines and just over 19% of those 16 or older have received a prime dose.

Dr. Gitanjali Pai, an infectious disease physician with OSDH, said that the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have only been approved for those 18 or older. The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for those 16 or older.

OSDH events early in the vaccination process would see appointments fill up in hours but at least one regional health department clinic this week had some same-day appointments available. 

“We aren’t sure if people don’t realize that they qualify, or if they are worried about taking a spot away from someone else who needs it more,” said Julie Williamson, Public Information Officer for OSDH District 8, in a Thursday email. 

Reed has also heard reports of some eligible Oklahomans declining appointments but said the gesture is no longer necessary.  “We appreciate that very much...but we’re reaching a point now that we need those people to go ahead and step up,” he said. 

The slowing demand is one reason health officials decided to make more priority groups eligible for vaccines next week. “Are all of our appointments filling up? How quickly are they filling up? That helps us to understand how quickly we need to move to the next groups because a majority of Oklahomans are still on the waiting list,” said Reed. 

“As soon as we recognize that we may start to have more supply than demand, at that point we’ll turn on the next group,” he said. 

The state health department is one of multiple organizations at the local, state and federal level administering vaccines. Federally Qualified Health Centers like Good Shepherd receive allotments of vaccines along with some pharmacies, hospitals, clinics and retail locations. 

The Good Shepherd Community Clinic Thursday, March 4, 2021. As a federally qualified health center, the Ardmore clinic has been allotted COVID-19 vaccines since December and currently has a waiting list for eligible recipients.

Good Shepherd holds vaccination clinics every few weeks specifically for Moderna shots considering the extreme refrigeration requirements for the Pfizer version. The clinics can administer both prime and booster doses and those who receive their first shot at Good Shepherd are automatically scheduled for their second shot about four weeks later. 

“It just takes us time with staff to be able to get enough patients on the list to schedule an appointment and then for me to take staff out of regular clinic day to run the clinic,” Hallum said. 

The Good Shepherd vaccination clinics have so far distributed 350 total shots that includes a mixture of prime and booster doses.