Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021
Capitol Watch

As Doctors Call For ‘All Hands On Deck’, Stitt Remains Largely Quiet on COVID-19 Vaccinations, Rising Cases

Dr. Eli Reshef, senior physician at the INTEGRIS Bennett Fertility Institute in Oklahoma City, said he asks every patient if they are vaccinated against COVID-19. He educates unvaccinated patients about the risks of being unvaccinated, which he said outweigh the risks of the vaccines. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

By Trevor Brown | Capitol/Investigative Reporter

The state’s latest COVID-19 surge continued to worsen last week as federal data showed Oklahoma was among the worst in the nation in several COVID-19 severity indicators, including test positivity rates and hospitalizations.

Meanwhile, the state’s vaccination rate, once in the top 10 states for getting residents vaccinated, is now 12th worst in the country with more than 57% of the state still unvaccinated. 

Since the vast majority of those now getting seriously sick or dying are unvaccinated, I wanted to dive deeper into why so many Oklahomans are continuing to be skeptical of the vaccines that have time and time again proven to be both safe and effective.

So my colleagues and I at Oklahoma Watch spent a good part of last week talking to doctors throughout the state to get a sense of what they are seeing and hearing from their COVID-19 vaccine-hesitant patient.

Across the board, the doctors, who ranged from family physicians to reproductive specialists, said they have been pleading with their vaccine-hesitant patients to get the shot.

Read my full story here (along with a data visualization of vaccinate rates by ZIP code from Paul Monies and a video shot and produced by Whitney Bryen) then check out our companion piece where you can read, in their own words, what 10 Oklahoma doctors are hearing – and how they are responding to patient’s concerns

But one of the big takeaways is that every single doctor said misinformation about the vaccine continues to run rampant.

Many of the doctors said state leaders, including Gov. Kevin Stitt, could do more to counter this bad information and reassure Oklahomans that the vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to battle the current COVID wave.

“Whether it’s state government leadership or sports celebrities, and we have quite a sports celebrity culture here, we should be enlisting those folks to get the message out,” Dr. Douglas Drevets, who is chief of infectious diseases at OU Health, told me. “I think it’s time for everyone to be all hands on deck and try to better communicate that if you’re not vaccinated, you should get it done.”

But Stitt has continued to take a low-key approach to the rising cases.

The governor’s office confirmed recently that there are no plans to try new strategies, such as offering lottery-based incentives like many other states are doing or embarking on a listening tour similar to what Gov. Asa Hutchinson is doing in Arkansas.

In addition, an Oklahoma Watch review found that Gov. Kevin Stitt publicly spoke or posted on social media about the benefits of vaccines far less frequently than governors, on both sides of the aisle, in neighboring states during recent months. 

Stitt also drew fire from Democrats and editorial page writers this week for hardly even mentioning COVID-19 during a “State of the State” speech to the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce. In the address, Stitt said the McGirt decision was Oklahoma’s “most pressing issue,” while he largely remained silent on the more than 9,000 Oklahomas who have died from COVID-19 or what the state is doing to prevent more deaths.

I want to know what you think? Do you think the governor or other state leaders should be doing more to address the COVID-19 pandemic? Or are you happy with their actions to date? As always, feel free to email me at tbrown@oklahomawatch.org or find me on Twitter at @tbrownokc.

More From Oklahoma Watch

A panel discusses the link between childhood trauma and incarceration at the She Brews Coffee House in Tulsa on Saturday, Aug. 21. Liz Kollaja, volunteer with Poetic Justice; Gina Richie, a formerly incarcerated mother who now works with the state Department of Mental Health; Lee Roland, a motivational speaker and former principal of Tulakes Elementary School in Oklahoma City; Carly Dunn, a research assistant at Oklahoma State University who focuses on health outcomes in rural communities. (Keaton Ross/Oklahoma Watch)

Lawmaker, Community Leaders Investigate Link Between Childhood Trauma and Incarceration Rates

A panel of researchers, volunteers and community leaders discussed the link between traumatic childhood experiences and incarceration in Tulsa last week. State Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, moderated the event, which was organized by the Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. 

Oklahoma Watch‘s Keaton Ross reports that Oklahoma ranks first in the U.S. in the number of people with an ACE score of at least two, according to a 2017 report from the National Survey of Children’s Health. [Read More]

Oklahoma COVID Vaccinations Increase As Delta Variant Spreads

More than 71,000 doses were given last week, up more than 40% from a month ago [Read more…]

Tweet Watch

The wait is over!

One of the many new state laws that went into effect this week will allow Oklahoma restaurants to offer cocktails-to-go as long as they are in a “rigid” and “tamper-evident” container.

Although the bill that created the new law squeaked by on some close votes earlier in this year, the new law is apparently very popular on Twitter, at least. This post from the Athletic‘s Jason Kersey about Norman staple, The Mont, selling its popular Sooner swirls to go has collected hundreds of retweets and almost 2,000 likes.

What I’m Reading This Week

  • With schools legally barred from enacting mask mandates, data shows cases in school-age children are driving Oklahoma’s surging COVID-19 case load. [The Frontier]
  • Newly drawn Oklahoma House districts approved by the Legislature earlier this year will have to be redrawn based on the latest census data, House and Senate leaders said Monday. [The Associated Press]
  • The money Oklahoma saved from sending fewer people to prison was supposed to finance county mental health programs. But the Legislature has never sent any money to the fund and no rules have been written for how the money can be spent. [The Frontier]
  • The Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information is warning Oklahomans of the potential dangers of using an animal heartworm medication in an attempt to treat COVID-19. [Tulsa World]
  • Opponents of a new law that grants immunity to motorists who unintentionally hurt or kill people while fleeing from a riot failed to collect enough signatures to trigger a statewide vote on the measure. [The Oklahoman]

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