Vaccines available for non-Oklahoma residents as epidemiologists update pandemic data

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite

The state health department has ended the Oklahoma residency requirement for COVID-19 vaccines as investigators reconcile data about positive cases and reported deaths linked to the disease. Even though the number of new cases in Oklahoma each week started to slow through February, hundreds of new COVID-19 cases continue to be identified each week. 

The weekly epidemiological update from the Oklahoma State Department of Health on Wednesday showed a dramatic jump in the number of positive COVID-19 cases and deaths over the prior week. With 2,170 new cases of the disease reported between March 28 and April 3, the total number of cases crossed the 440,000 mark this week. 

However, many of the cases identified this week actually date back as far as December after a technical error in reporting. 

“Earlier this week, one of our routine quality assurance checks revealed a technical error that occurred while onboarding a particular lab to the new electronic laboratory reporting system. Although the technical error is specific to only one lab, it resulted in the failure to upload approximately 1,300 positive COVID-19 cases onto our dashboard over a six-week period,” said Dr. Jared Taylor, an epidemiologist for OSDH. 

Corrections made to OSDH epidemiological data this week also extended into death reporting. 

“OSDH previously switched to reporting on deaths in alignment with the CDC while our team worked to resolve the discrepancy in deaths reported in the ADS (state) system. The ADS team is making progress in reviewing and reconciling the death count between the vital records and ADS assessment,” said Taylor. 

OSDH has confirmed 6,669 deaths in Oklahoma have been linked to the disease, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded 7,994 provisional deaths from COVID-19. Health officials have said that the gap between OSDH confirmed deaths and CDC provisional deaths would likely close as state investigators verify death certificate data used by the CDC. 

This week's state epidemiological report shows a slow decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths linked to the disease.

Part of that closing gap included about 1,800 newly confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Oklahoma, some dating back to April 2020. Early December 2020 and late January saw the most COVID-19 deaths in Oklahoma when anywhere from 50 to 70 people would die from the disease each day, according to Wednesday’s OSDH report with updated death reporting.

Carter County’s COVID-19 death toll skyrocketed from 65 on March 31 to 108 on April 7, according to the most recent weekly data from OSDH on Wednesday. County-level data indicating the actual date of death is not available. 

A series of information requests by The Ardmoreite to the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs in January revealed 40 residents at the Ardmore center died from COVID-19 by Jan. 20, but Wednesday’s epidemiological report still only indicates 12 COVID-19 deaths at the facility. 

Public health workers in southern Oklahoma remain focused on vaccination efforts as over 28% of eligible Carter County residents 16 years old or over have received their first vaccine dose. Almost 19% of county residents have been fully vaccinated, including over 45% of those 65 years old or over. 

Over 2 million total doses of vaccines have been administered in Oklahoma, including over 1 million from state allocations. State residency requirements to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in Oklahoma were lifted on Thursday to allow anybody over the age of 16 to receive a vaccine. 

Recipients of the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson must be 18 years old or older, but recipients of the Pfizer vaccine can be as young as 16 years old. 

“While our focus has been and will continue to be on vaccinating Oklahomans, we have always known there would be a point at which supply and increasing capacity would allow us to welcome residents from neighboring states into Oklahoma to get vaccinated,” said OSDH Deputy Commissioner Keith Reed. 

“Our focus is definitely on vaccination and prevention. We are still investigating all the cases that come back positive but vaccination is our best tool right now,” said Julie Williamson, public information officer for OSDH District 8 which includes Carter County and eight surrounding counties. 

“We would love to see more Oklahomans getting vaccinated because we do still have cases being spread in the community and we know being vaccinated makes a big difference on whether people are going to get severely ill or end up in the hospital,” said Williamson. 

Vaccination data from OSDH only includes state allocations of three drugs and does not reflect doses administered from federal allocations, including federal prisons and Native American tribes.  

“We have been filling up some of our clinics here in Ardmore, just not as fast as they used to,” she said of OSDH clinics. “As far as I know the pandemic providers that have been ordering have been getting their doses in,” she said. 

A number of retail pharmacies, or pandemic providers, in the area have already been receiving vaccine doses from state allotments. According to vaccinefinder.org on Thursday, Carter County locations scheduling vaccine appointments include Walmart, Homeland, Reed Family Pharmacy and Mercy Hospital.  

Good Shepherd Community Clinic on Thursday also confirmed appointments can be scheduled for COVID-19 vaccines. Availability of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines varies between locations and should be verified before scheduling. 

Williamson said public health workers in south-central Oklahoma are trying to utilize mobile resources to reach the most rural members of the population. An OSDH mobile vaccination event was held in Healdton on Thursday. It will also be at the Rattlesnake Festival in Waurika on Friday from 3 p.m. until  6 p.m., and again on Saturday from noon until 4 p.m.

The Waurika events will offer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by appointment only. Those wishing to schedule an appointment can visit https:///vaccinate.ok.gov/ and, while filling out the COVID-19 questionnaire, use the invitation code F7R4G9001157Q1B9Q3 to register for either Friday or Saturday.

“We’re really trying to utilize our mobile vans and get out into the more remote areas of our counties to make sure that the vaccine is available to everybody,” Williamson said.