Oklahoma next week will open more groups to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine as the state now has more than one-third of its adult population with at least one dose.
The move, announced Friday, comes as a downward trend continues for new cases and hospitalizations after pandemic highs were reached in mid-January. But the state health department made a significant admission this week that it got behind on reporting deaths from COVID-19.
As children return to school, Oklahoma now has the highest rate of exemptions from immunizations for kindergartners in the region, according to state and federal data.
Officials with the Oklahoma State Department of Health said their investigations of COVID-19 deaths began slowing as deaths, cases and hospitalizations surged in the past several months. The department’s Acute Disease Service hasn’t been able to catch up, leading to a difference of more than 2,500 deaths from the state’s total and one taken from death certificates filed with the state and sent to the vital records division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The state received its first shipment of the newly approved, one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Wednesday, said Keith Reed, deputy health commissioner. But because of production issues, the state isn’t expecting another shipment of that particular vaccine until the end of the month.
“What is fortunate is that we are seeing continuing increases with Moderna and Pfizer vaccines coming in place to help offset that,” Reed said Friday. “Once we get towards the end of the month and we start on that regular cadence of Johnson & Johnson coming in, that’s going to be a welcome bump with our overall supply.”
The state will open the remainder of the second phase of its four-phase rollout plan for the vaccines. Beginning Monday, staff and residents in congregate care facilities, including prisons and jails, will be eligible. It also includes some workplaces and public transit systems where social distancing isn’t possible, as well as homeless shelters. The state has signed up more than 850,000 Oklahomans with its vaccine scheduling portal.
“In addition to increased supply, our overlapping approach to the distribution plan has helped us successfully reach as many Oklahomans as possible in a short period of time,” Reed said. “If you are eligible and ready for the COVID-19 vaccine, we encourage you to get it right away to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.”
Reed said more than 1.18 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Oklahoma, with more than 426,000 residents getting both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. About one-third of the state’s population older than 16 has had at least one dose. The totals include the vaccine shipments sent to the state, tribal nations and federal facilities like the Veterans Administration.
As the vaccine rollout continues, the state continues to see a downward trend in cases and hospitalizations. On Friday, the state recorded 427,558 confirmed cases since the first reported case a year ago. The seven-day moving average of new daily cases was 648, down from 811 a week ago.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 fell below 400 on a daily basis this week, a level not seen since last July. Those daily hospitalizations peaked near 2,000 a day in early January.
Public health officials said Oklahomans should remain vigilant and keep abiding by the advice to wear a mask, watch their distance and wash their hands. An analysis of active cases by ZIP code by Oklahoma Watch bears that out.
Among the increases in active cases for the week were ZIP codes in Atoka, Altus, Lawton, Edmond and Fort Sill. Total active cases were high in Lawton, Moore, Yukon, Muskogee and Tahlequah. Those places had ZIP codes with more than 160 active cases by Friday.
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