They arrived in small vials packed into seemingly insignificant white cardboard boxes, but officials and health care workers say they represent a new ray of hope amid the pandemic.
More than 33,100 coronavirus vaccines are anticipated to be delivered to sites across Oklahoma this week, with tens of thousands more expected by the end of the year, officials have said.
The initial vaccinations are the first in what’s expected to be a complicated and momentous statewide rollout, and mark a new phase in the nation’s battle against the coronavirus. The first doses are marked for frontline health care workers, who still are battling strained hospital capacity as the state continues to report near-record numbers of COVID-19 patients.
Oklahoma reported 2,224 new COVID-19 cases and 14 fatalities on Tuesday, bringing the known death toll to 2,086.
An initial 7,800 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived at Integris Health in Oklahoma City on Monday morning, and 9,750 shots landed at Saint Francis in Tulsa. Three more undisclosed sites will receive shipments later Tuesday, an Oklahoma State Department of Health spokeswoman said.
By week’s end, vaccines will have been redistributed to an additional 11 sites across the state.
State officials have said they expect at least 166,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of the year, enough to cover everyone in the state’s first priority group.
Hannah White, a registered nurse in Oklahoma City, became the first person to receive a vaccine outside of a medical trial on Monday.
In Tulsa, registered nurses with the Tulsa Health Department started administering shots by appointment during a drive-up clinic on Tuesday.
Dr. Jeff Johnson, an emergency room doctor at Hillcrest Medical Center, received the vaccine that morning. He said he had been eager to be one of the first people to get the shot.
“I’ve just been hopeful that if we can start getting the people vaccinated we can start kind of moving out of this period and start getting more back toward normal,” Johnson said.
Ellen Niemitalo, manager of clinic services at the Tulsa Health Department, said vaccinated people are given a card stating which vaccination they received and when they need the second dose, which is 21 days after getting their first shot. The department expects shipments of vaccines every one to two weeks, she said.
Officials are rolling out the vaccine in four phases, with health care workers providing direct inpatient coronavirus care, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and paramedics making up the first priority group.
A second shipment of 38,000 doses is expected to arrive in the coming weeks. About 27,000 of those will go to residents and staff of long-term care facilities. The state is partnering with CVS and Walgreens to administer those vaccines.
Long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, have represented a disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths.
The state’s first phase covers about 160,000 people.
The second phase of vaccine distribution is expected to begin early next year and will include other health care workers, adults over the age of 65, adults with comorbidities, and staff and residents of homeless shelters, prisons and some manufacturing facilities.
The Pfizer vaccine’s arrival comes less than a week after receiving emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration and about nine months after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Oklahoma in early March.
Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine is awaiting FDA approval but is expected to be approved for emergency use by the end of the week. The FDA has rigorous regulatory processes in place to ensure the safety, effectiveness and quality of vaccines.
Officials have urged Oklahomans to continue to social distance, wear masks and wash their hands in an effort to slow viral spread.
Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday said his team was optimistic about the vaccine’s arrival, calling it a “historic day,”
“We feel like it is the start of the beginning of getting back to normal. I hope Oklahomans can see the hope and the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said during a news conference at Integris Baptist Medical Center.