With announcements earlier this month that two pharmaceutical giants have developed effective COVID-19 vaccines, Oklahoma and other states across the nation are ramping up plans to distribute millions of doses of the potentially life-saving vaccine in the coming months. 

Like much of the rest of the country, Oklahoma is seeing the virus spread faster than ever as  cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to topple records. 

But experts say there may be hope after the news that Pfizer and Moderna both developed vaccine candidates that preliminary results show are effective and safe. 

Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Thursday that Vice President Mike Pence told him that 60 to 70 million vaccines will be distributed across the country before the end of the year.

It is still unclear exactly how many doses will be distributed to Oklahomans in the first wave, when they will arrive or when the vaccines could be deployed on a mass scale. 

A state document sent to federal officials, however, offers clues to who will get the vaccine first and who will have to wait. 

Last month, Oklahoma State Department of Health officials submitted a draft of their COVID-19 Vaccination Plan to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. The report, which can still be updated pending guidance from the federal government, lays out much of the state’s strategy for how the vaccine will be distributed. 

This includes a four-phase approach to deciding who gets the vaccine first. 

In the first phase, when vaccines are expected to be in “very limited supply,” long-term care and assisted-living nursing homes will be the first to receive the vaccines.

Nursing homes, along with the vulnerable populations they serve, have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. As of Nov. 13, 539 nursing home staff or patients have died from the virus, accounting for more than a third of the state’s total COVID-19 deaths.

The vaccine would also be made available to the most at-risk frontline health care workers, lab personnel, as well as doctors and nurses who provide direct care to COVID-19 patients.

A total of 115,500 Oklahomans are included in the groups targeted for the first phase. 

In the second phase, when large numbers of the vaccine is available, state officials will then focus on vaccinating other vulnerable populations.

This includes adults older than 65, first responders and other health care workers and support staff. Senior government officials and people who congregate in crowded areas where social distancing is hard or impossible would then be targeted. This includes staff and residents in homeless shelters, prisons or jails and manufacturing plants. 

Curbside and drive-in vaccine clinics will likely be offered by providers to allow for quick vaccinations at this point, according to the document. 

In the third phase, the state pandemic plan states that the vaccine should be available statewide. At this stage, the teachers, students and educational support staff will be targeted. The vaccine will also be made available to other “essential workers” identified earlier in the pandemic. This category includes a broad range of populations, ranging from restaurant staff to oil and gas workers.  

In the fourth and final phase, all remaining Oklahomans would be included. 

The plan goes on to caution that adjustments can be made depending on several unknown factors. 

“The OSDH Commissioner of Health will receive recommendations from the core planning group and, if needed, the vaccine advisory committee to review and approve the subset groups of critical populations and associated allocation strategy and prioritization,” the plan states. “The strategy will be influenced by CDC guidelines, disease burden, and vaccine type and supply.”

Trevor Brown has been an Oklahoma Watch reporter since 2016. He covers politics, elections, health policies and government accountability issues. Call or text him at (630) 301-0589. Email him at tbrown@oklahomawatch.org. Follow him on Twitter at @tbrownokc

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