Residents under 65 with comorbidities, teachers and school staff for grades pre-K through 12th will be eligible for vaccines beginning Monday.
As the state moves into the next portion of Phase 2 of the vaccine distribution plan, health officials have estimated that allowing Oklahomans under 65 with comorbidities to sign up for appointments expands access to about 1 million people.
Vaccination clinics will be established specifically for school districts and their staff, said Oklahoma State Department of Health Deputy Director Keith Reed. Health officials will rely on district administrators to determine how many employees from each school want the vaccine and which dates and times school employees could be available for appointments.
Adding teachers and support staff expands access for another 89,000 people, Reed said in a press conference Feb. 11.
“This portion of Phase 2 will likely take some time to complete,” Reed said. “Even if you are eligible, it may be some time before you are able to get your appointment.”
Coordinating the effort to vaccinate teachers and staff has been an exercise in teamwork said Brandie Combs, Regional Director for the Oklahoma Department of Health District 5. Several schools will feed into designated central locations with many local pandemic providers such as pharmacies, hospitals and community health centers helping vaccinate teachers and staff.
“These partnerships are essential in the vaccine distribution efforts,” Combs said. “Because these providers have committed time away from their business, clinic or daily job duties to help vaccinate teachers, we are able to continue offering large scale clinics targeting the 65+ population and now those under 65 with comorbidities.”
Teachers and school staff were originally in Phase 3 of the state’s vaccine distribution plan, but Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt moved the group to Phase 2 in December. Stitt made moving students back to in-person learning one of his top priorities. Many schools including Lawton Public Schools have offered in-person learning, virtual and hybrid classes.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said allowing teachers and schools staff to get the vaccine as soon as possible is critical to get students back into the classroom.
“While in-person school is more dependent on COVID mitigation strategies such as masks and social distancing, ensuring the vaccination of teachers is vital to keeping school doors open,” Hofmeister said in a Feb. 11 press release.
Those who were in earlier priority groups can still schedule appointments. Reed said the state has administered doses to nearly half of the state’s population 65 and older.
The state’s vaccine scheduling portal and prioritization plan include lists of health issues that put people at increased risk of having a severe illness if they were to contract COVID-19.
While the list of comorbities isn’t exhaustive, Reed said it includes asthma, cancers, cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, chronic liver or renal disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, suppressed immune system and downs syndrome.
“If someone has a comorbid condition not included in the list, they can reach out to their personal provider to ask about the vaccine and to see if they may be eligible,” Reed said.
Healthcare officials will not require documentation to prove an eligible condition said Reed. Instead the state is relying on the honor system in an effort to not “slow down the process of administering the vaccine by asking for proof of a comorbidity.”
“As this public health crisis continues, we trust Oklahomans to be honest,” Reed said.
Southwest Oklahoma will receive over 9,000 doses of the vaccine next week, said Combs. She said these doses are in addition to teacher-focused clinics.
“It should be clear to everyone at this point, this response takes an entire community,” Combs said. “Together we can reach more people thereby, offering more community protection.”
Residents currently eligible for a vaccine, including people over 65, first responders and health care workers, will still be eligible for immunizations.