State, local health officials save the day

by Jessica Garvin

In October, Oklahoma long-term care facilities received information on how to sign up for immunizations through companies contracted with the federal government. Late into December, many facilities still hadn’t received notification on when these immunizations would be available. As residents and staff continued to become diagnosed with COVID-19, many became desperate for an ounce of hope that they would soon receive potentially life-saving vaccinations. 

I was one of those nursing home administrators who sat waiting for the pharmacy to contact us, only to learn that there was some confusion and our immunizations would not be coming.

Thankfully, my county’s health department called the facility to inform us that they didn’t see our building on the contract list. Chris Munn at the Stephens County Health Department, in conjunction with the Oklahoma State Department of Health, came in and saved the day with their immunization strike team. Every single staff member and resident who wanted to be immunized was able to do it within five days of the call. It took us three months to hear back from the federally contracted provider, but in only five days OSDH was able to help. 

I truly believe that the state and county health departments are doing the best they can to get everyone vaccinated. Like anything in life, it’s not perfect; the people behind the scenes trying to make it all flow are doing so with a passion that shouldn’t be questioned. When OSDH was a few weeks ahead of schedule vaccinating and could have sat on thousands of vaccines, catch their breath, and wait for Microsoft to finish the state’s online portal for signup, they elected to push forward with vaccinations. They were in a situation where they would have been judged for either: 1) holding onto vaccinations when people were dying, or 2) making the decision to give inoculations through an imperfect system trying to save more lives. I wouldn’t want to be the one to make that call, knowing I’d be scrutinized either way.

I know it’s frustrating, not being able to get a vaccination if you want one, trying to get a vaccine for someone else and not being able to schedule it, being told all the appointments are full. It’s all frustrating. But consider the fact that there are approximately 650,000 Oklahomans over the age of 65. There are roughly 2,400 people employed by OSDH. I’d say only about 20% (480) of those individuals are trained to give immunizations. If those 480 people worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, giving immunizations, and each took approximately five minutes to administer, each person would be able to give 288 immunizations daily (138,240 per day).

However, if we factor in their regular workload, paperwork for each immunization, and their eight-hour workday, even giving that many immunizations five days a week would only allow them to administer roughly 46,000 shots a week--and that’s without lunch, travel time or bathroom breaks. My point is this will take time. We’re dealing with a supply shortage, a nursing shortage, and still expecting these workers to manage their regular workload. 

Simply put, I ask you to consider these points and extend a little grace over the next few weeks because OSDH is working non-stop to make the process better. They’ve never given immunizations out like this in mass quantities and they’re trying to figure it out as they go, just like the rest of us. If you have ideas and want to be part of the solution, contact your legislator--that’s why we’re here.

You can pre-register for your vaccination at www.vaccinate.ok.gov. Currently, only health care workers, first responders and those 65 or older are eligible. After pre-registering if you’re eligible to receive the vaccine, you’ll be prompted to make an appointment. If not, you’ll receive an email when you are eligible.

The state is receiving weekly vaccine shipments and reservations can be made on Thursday mornings. Spots fill up quickly so be sure to get online early. If there are no available spots, you’ll need to check back in weekly. Please be patient. Everyone who wants a vaccine will eventually get it.

If you have any questions or concerns on legislative matters, please contact me at the Capitol. Please write to Senator Jessica Garvin, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 237, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at Jessica.Garvin@oksenate.gov or call (405) 521-5522.



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