COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Expanded

The “vast majority” of Oklahomans will be eligible for a COVIID-19 vaccination beginning early next week, state health officials announced Monday.

Oklahomans in Phase 3 of the state’s vaccination plan–which includes essential workers, teachers, staff and students in educational settings outside pre-kindergarten through 12th grade–are being added to the list of those allowed to sign up for a vaccine.

That adds over 2 million to the list of those eligible, according to the state’s estimate.

“This is big.  This is a big step,” Deputy Commissioner of Health Keith Reed said Monday.

  “This means that we are bringing on the vast majority of Oklahomans.”

Officials had just announced on Friday that they would add the final groups of Phase 2 to the list of those eligible to get vaccinated.  Those groups became eligible Monday.

Reed said officials have started to see some available appointments across the state, particularly in rural areas.  That was the “trigger point” that indicated it was time to expand eligibility to more people, he said.

“Different parts of the state are getting through this at different rates, so we see some capacity in some areas of the state that we may not see in other areas,” the deputy health commissioner   “We can’t wait for everybody to get there at the same time.  When we start seeing capacity opening up, we need to take advantage of that.”

Supply has also steadily increased in recent weeks, Reed said.  The state expects about 170,000 doses next week, not including supplies of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.  Shipments of Johnson & Johnson vaccines will resume the following week, he said.

Phase 3 is the last phase that includes prioritized groups for the vaccine.  In Phase 4, the vaccine will be open to all Oklahoma residents not already included in another group–about 55,200 people according to the state’s estimate.

Teachers and staff in schools for pre-K through 12th grade have already been eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination, so, Phase 3 adds teachers, staff, residents and students in educational settings outside those grades.

That includes colleges and universities, early childhood facilities and childcare facilities, career and vocational schools, and other post-secondary institutions, according to the state’s vaccine plan.

“Critical infrastructure personnel”–or essential workers–will be eligible based on criteria laid out in an executive order from Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Anyone who was already eligible to receive a vaccine is still eligible.

E-mail notifications through the state’s scheduling portal for people eligible under Phase 3 of the state’s plan will go out early Tuesday morning.  Anyone who hasn’t already registered through the state’s portal may do so at vaccinate-oklahoma.gov.

The state portal was to be down for a short time Monday night to add updates, including a Spanish-language version of the portal.  It will be operational again Tuesday morning, Reed said.

Anticipating demand

Reed said he hopes people won’t struggle to find an appointment as roughly 2.4 million people become eligible Tuesday.

“But at the same time, we also want every vaccine to find an arm as soon as possible, so trying to strike that balance is important for us,” Reed said. 

“It may get tight for a little while as we work through this.”

He urged people not to wait to seek an appointment when they become eligible, and to keep in mind that appointments may be available through providers not on the state’s portal.

The state portal also isn’t the only place to find a vaccine, Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said.  Some pharmacies, as well as providers like Walmart, Sam’s Club and some local health departments, have separate sign-ups for vaccines.

“Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are delays sometimes when we first open up because there are a lot of people trying to get on,” he said.  “There’s a lot of different access points, and the portal is just one of those avenues for getting an appointment.”

In the meantime, people should continue to mask up, wash their hands often, and keep a safe distance from others, officials said.

“Now’s the time to get vaccinated,” dr. Reed said.   “Now’s the time to do your part to help stem the pandemic and get us back to some sense of normalcy.

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