Ottawa County residents unable to schedule coronavirus vaccine appointments, state works to add more availability

Vaccine supply remains limited in the state after a federal level change in December.

OTTAWA COUNTY, Okla. – After months of waiting, many residents across Oklahoma are eager to get their Coronavirus vaccines.

And thousands already have. The state department of health says 243,807 vaccines have been administered as of midnight Monday night. Roughly 31 thousand of those are second doses, meaning more than 30 thousand residents across the state have been fully vaccinated.

In Ottawa County, vaccinations have been happening for a few weeks now, meaning hundreds of residents have received their initial doses.

But now, many residents are hitting a road block when trying to schedule appointments for their second (or booster) shot.

On January 7th, the Oklahoma State Department of Health launched the COVID Vaccine Scheduling Portal, where residents who are healthcare workers, first responders, or 65 or older are supposed to be able to schedule vaccine appointments. For residents outside of these categories, they are able to sign up to be notified when they are eligible for vaccines.

Officials say this is how Ottawa County residents will have to schedule their vaccine appointments.

SECOND DOSE UPDATE:

You need to register through the state portal for a secondary dose. If you received your first…

Posted by Ottawa County Health Department on Friday, January 15, 2021

 

But, many Ottawa County residents, including those who have received their first dose — have not been able to schedule an appointment.

Resident Kay DeSilva has been trying to set up appointments for herself, her mother and her husband. But every time she tries, it says that there are no appointments available.

“Just frustrating and stressful. [I] keep getting in and trying over and over having to fill out every time you go in and then get to the end [and] it tells you the same thing… no dates available. We were lucky to get our first shot but we’re told our second shot was to be on Feb. 5 they also said that it needs to be given in a three day window of time,” says DeSilva in a Facebook message. “I just don’t understand why they didn’t set up an appointment when we were there.”

“No appointments available. Trying for myself, elderly mother and brother. It stinks. Will not even take an appointment,” says resident Leslie Mccoy.

“Finally got myself, husband and mother-in law signed up [on the portal]. No appointments are available. Every time I check, you have to fill in info all over again. [It’s] very frustrating,” says Terre Duniphin.

“Just sad that when I got shot the nurse assured the 12 of us that were there that day that we would get the 2nd dose. Now I don’t believe them,” explains another Ottawa County resident who wishes to remain anonymous.

In a media briefing on Tuesday, January 19th, State Deputy Commissioner of Health Keith Reed explained the department is only scheduling vaccine appointments one week in advance.

“We are working on getting second dose appointments put into the system further out that will make it easier for somebody to go out and get their second dose appointment further out into the future, with should eliminate a lot of those issues,” says Deputy Commissioner Reed.

James Thompson, Regional Director over District 4 for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, says the same. He explains that appointments are usually scheduled at some point between Wednesday evening and Thursday evening each week for the next week.

So right now, he recommends that residents follow their local health department Facebook page, where there will be updates when vaccine appointments are available. Residents can also sign up for vaccine appointment alerts from the state. They can do so by signing up at vaccinate.oklahoma.gov. By signing up for alerts, eligible residents will be sent an email when appointments become available.

Residents who don’t have access to a computer, or can’t use one, can call 211 and leave their information. That information will be transferred to their local health department, who will then call to set up an appointment when there is one available.

Officials also ask that residents wait until they are only a week away from needing a second dose to schedule an appointment for that booster.

Deputy Commissioner Reed says that appointment availability will increase significantly once they are able to get pandemic providers — such as hospitals, pharmacies and other healthcare providers — online. That’s something Reed had hoped would have been possible by this point in the distribution process.

“Though Operation Warp Speed shared there would be a significant increase in supply provided to states in the short term, we have received word that such an increase will not occur in the short term,” explains Deputy Commissioner Reed. “As of last week, we were under the impression that 50 percent of our doses were physically being stockpiled in preparation for the need for second doses and that that was what was being released to us. That was not the case. So, again, we’re frustrated and really waiting on that information to know what’s ahead of us.”

Deputy Commissioner Reed explains that this week the state will receive 81 thousand doses of vaccine  — much lower than the upwards of 200 thousand they were anticipating. Next week, that number will be around 86 thousand doses — with future shipments continuing to be around 80 thousand doses each week.

“So now we’re in a situation to manage second doses moving forward. What we really can’t do is leave those in a freezer and wait three or four weeks. So we have another option. Our option is to use an appointment system that is tied to second doses in order to understand how many people are coming due, and how we can use our current inventory as it comes in each week,” explains Deputy Commissioner Reed. “So what you might expect moving forward is some weeks, we are very heavy on providing boost doses for the public because we have many coming due, and if we didn’t get a large increase in doses, we’ll focus pretty heavily on those boost doses. Other weeks, it might be heavy on prime doses. So we’re going to get into kind of a pattern here where some weeks are heavier with prime, and some weeks are heavier with boost.”

Deputy Commissioner Reed says that he does not anticipate any significant delays in getting those second doses to residents. But, he explains that if residents have to wait a little bit longer than 21 days between doses of the Pfizer vaccine, or 28 days between doses of the Moderna vaccine, it won’t impact how effective the vaccine is.

“You don’t have to have it on day 21. You don’t have to have it on day 28. [But] that is as much about scheduling logistics as it is about vaccine availability. There’s a lot of balls in the air, if you will that, we’re trying to keep straight. Sometimes we need to shift to the right a little bit… a day or two here and there in order to ensure that we have the venue secure, the staff is available, that everything comes together that are required to pull of these clinics,” explains Deputy Commissioner Reed. “So I don’t want people to be concerned that they’re not gonna get their second dose right now. We are prioritizing the second doses based off of vaccine that’s coming into the state. Is there the potential that there could be a problem down the road? I’m not saying no to anything right now because we get new information all the time. But as long as we continue with this minimum steady cadence of vaccine coming in, I think we’re gonna be fine on second doses.

The state has not yet opened up eligibility for residents under 65 who have comorbidities.

 

You can watch the entire hour long media briefing below.