OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s congressional delegation remained mum on what, if anything, they’re doing to try to increase the pace of COVID-19 vaccine dispersal in the state.
CNHI Oklahoma also asked each of the seven lawmakers last week to explain why the state is being allocated only about 30,000 to 40,000 doses of the vaccine each week through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Operation Warp Speed when state officials have said that they’re ready for additional doses.
Not one of the seven Republican lawmakers commented.
At the current federal dispersal rate of about 46,000 new vaccine doses a week, it will take Oklahoma about four months to give the first COVID-19 vaccine dose to the 702,000 adults in the top Phase 2 priority groups. Those include first responders, health care workers, adults ages 65 and older and Oklahomans with comorbidities.
Millions of Oklahomans, meanwhile, are still waiting for their turn, including an estimated 89,000 teachers.
This week, the CDC reports Oklahoma is slated to receive an additional 46,300 doses of the vaccine — the same amount as the previous week.
Keith Reed, the state’s deputy commissioner of health, said Friday that the way the system is set up, the CDC basically tells states what they can ask for. States then ask for that allocation.
Reed said he’s not satisfied with the amount of vaccine being provided by Operation Warp Speed, and he won’t be satisfied until every Oklahoman who wants a vaccine has access to one.
“We just want to keep the pressure on them (the CDC), and we do that by putting vaccine in people’s arms,” he said.
Reed said health officials are focused on inputting vaccine injection data into a centralized system to prove to Operation Warp Speed officials that the allocations of vaccines are being administered instead of sitting unused on Oklahoma refrigerator and freezer shelves.
State Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, said he’s been hearing from constituents frustrated about the lack of vaccine access.
He said the state would be much off if it had representatives in Washington, D.C., who are as vocal about vaccines and getting them to Oklahomans as they have been about questioning the results of November’s presidential election.
“My hope is that a more organized administration will help make that a little better,” Bennett said. “I understand that there are logistical issues, and it’s hard to take over an operation like this when we’re in the middle of it. But I think if we get people in these positions who are more interested in the delivery services than how great their services are then maybe the services will be great.”
Bennett said the response starts at the federal level and the federal rollout was “clearly overhyped” and has not been what it should.
“I would love to know that the plan is not going to keep people from being vaccinated until four months from now — people that we would call front-line workers,” he said. “That should be the top priority of Republican leaders here.”
Nationally, Oklahoma ranked fourth best Sunday among U.S. states in the number of vaccines administered per 100,000, according to the CDC. Only Alaska, Vermont and South Dakota had administered more.
The state had administered 103,020 first doses and had a vaccination rate of 2,604 per 100,000 people, according to the CDC.
With 297,636 doses distributed, the CDC reported that Oklahoma has received the 24th most COVID vaccines among U.S. states.
Texas had received 1.83 million doses; Missouri, 406,150; Colorado, 381,775; Arkansas, 225,100; Kansas, 191,225; and New Mexico, 145,025.
Indian Health Services, which is handling distribution for the state’s federally recognized tribes, had received 192,850 doses.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.