The pace of COVID-19 vaccinations picked up this week in Oklahoma as state officials announced Friday that more than 1 million doses of vaccines have been administered since December.

“This is an extraordinary milestone for our state — over one million doses of this life-saving vaccine have been administered to Oklahomans,” said Keith Reed, deputy commissioner at the Oklahoma State Department of Health. “It is reassuring to see this progress made, but we know the job isn’t done until we have provided the vaccine to every Oklahoman who needs it.”

The milestone came after state officials received updates from the federal government about vaccines shipped directly to tribes and federal Veterans Administration hospitals and clinics. Previously, the state could only track doses shipped through the state health department and distributed across the state. Oklahoma is seventh in the nation for the number of doses administered per 100,000 people, according to federal data.

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“It is great to see the significant progress our tribal and VA partners have made in administering the vaccine to Oklahomans throughout this entire response — we have been in close communication and knew it was happening, but now we get to see the tangible results of all their hard work,” Reed said. “Our distribution efforts across the state would not be successful without partnerships like these.”

So far, more than half of all Oklahomans older than 65 have received at least one dose of the two-shot vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. Reed said the state expects to get about 145,000 doses from the federal government next week, and about 156,000 doses the week after that.

Several large vaccination drives came across the state this week as the state opened up the vaccine to pre-kindergarten through grade 12 teachers and staff and more than 1 million Oklahomans with comorbidities like heart disease, lung problems or obesity. The state’s online portal to schedule vaccinations has signed up more than 806,000 people.  

A new COVID-19 vaccine by Johnson & Johnson is close to federal approval. Reed said when it’s approved, Oklahoma could have as many as 30,000 doses as soon as next week. That vaccine is a one-dose regimen and can be stored in regular refrigeration, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that require ultra-cold storage. (Story continues below).


COVID-19 Cases By ZIP code


“Johnson & Johnson is a big deal coming on board,” Reed said. “In fact, any new manufacturer coming on board would be a big deal because it adds to our options. It adds to our inventory. This one is logistically much easier to handle.”

Health officials said the relocated Public Health Lab in Stillwater has received emergency use authorization from the federal government to study the various strains of the coronavirus. Researchers use genome sequencing of viruses to see if it is mutating. Knowing that helps improve the public health responses through testing, quarantine and isolation requirements and vaccination outreach.  

“This has the potential to make a huge difference in our fight against COVID-19 currently in the state, as well as position us and prepare us very well for future public health responses to a wide array of infectious diseases,” Dr. Jared Taylor, the state epidemiologist, said in a briefing on Thursday. “Quite simply, sequencing viral genomes is crucial to our understanding of the disease and our ability to respond appropriately to it.”

Taylor said Oklahomans should continue to get tested if they have been exposed to the coronavirus or exhibit symptoms. The state wants to sequence about 10% of the testing specimens.

Cases and hospitalizations continued on a downward trend after peaking most recently in January. The seven-day rolling average of new daily cases on Friday was 811, a level last seen in September. Daily hospitalizations for COVID-19 across the state have similarly fallen below 600, a 71% drop since the peak in January.

Oklahoma is poised to end February with the fewest monthly cases since October, although severe cold weather in the past couple of weeks could have dampened testing results and the detection of new positive cases. Reported deaths have remained high this year as the state’s death toll from COVID-19 reached 4,320 on Friday.

Active daily cases fell to 13,336 by Friday, a decline of 69% since a pandemic high of 43,000 active cases in mid-January. An Oklahoma Watch analysis of active case growth by ZIP code showed a few communities with small weekly increases in active cases across the state. They included Grove, Tulsa, Okarche, Spiro and Quapaw. Most ZIP codes had weekly declines, with the largest declines coming in the Tulsa suburbs of Owasso and Broken Arrow.

Places with the top active case counts on Friday included Lawton, Moore and Yukon, with some ZIP codes in those cities with active cases above 200. An active case is a person who has tested positive in the past 14 days or is seeking COVID-19 treatment in the hospital.

Paul Monies has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2017. He covers state agencies and public health. Call or text him at (571) 319-3289 or email pmonies@oklahomawatch.org. Follow him on Twitter at @pmonies. 

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