When the federal government announced this week it would start releasing coronavirus vaccine shots that were held in reserve for second doses, Oklahoma officials were optimistic, hoping they could greatly expand how many people could be vaccinated.
The Trump administration said it would stop holding back the shots that were reserved for the second dose of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s two-dose vaccines, potentially doubling states’ supplies.
Except there was no reserve, The Washington Post reported on Friday morning. The Trump administration had already started shipping all available vaccine shots, including second doses, in December.
Oklahoma’s allocation of vaccines would remain flat.
“I’m extremely frustrated to learn that that’s actually not in existence, that is not coming to us,” said Keith Reed, deputy commissioner for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, during a virtual news conference on Friday.
Oklahoma officials were mulling the idea of using the unspecified number of shots released from reserve to give more people the first dose of the vaccine.
Oklahoma, which gets around 30,000 to 50,000 doses weekly, will continue to receive vaccine, but the state won’t immediately have expanded access, Reed said. He said he was confident in the department’s ability to manage inventory and ensure people get their second shots.
Until Thursday, federal workers had assured Oklahoma health officials and gave them a “clear impression” that for every first dose the state received, the federal government was holding back a second shot in reserve.
The first indication no such reserve existed came on Thursday, when someone from Operation Warp Speed called Reed to talk about the state’s future vaccine allocations.
What of the reserve?
“‘Yeah, that doesn’t really exist like that,’” Reed said he was told. The state didn’t get the full story until the following morning, when media reports came out, he said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday announced new guidance aimed to increase vaccine administration by expanding eligibility to everyone 65 and older and to those with comorbidities.
Further, the federal government’s allocation of COVID-19 vaccines would soon be based on how many doses each state has administered and the number of residents over 65, according to the new guidance.
State officials had expressed optimism for the new guidance earlier this week. They detailed plans to greatly expand access to COVID-19 vaccines by utilizing pharmacies, community health centers and planning additional mass vaccination sites.
“This updated plan means vaccine doses will be available at a level they haven’t been so far,” Reed said on Wednesday.
But by Friday, following news that the federal government’s vaccine reserve was figuratively bare, that optimism had turned to disappointment.
Oklahoma started vaccinating front line hospital workers, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, in mid-December. Earlier this month, the state broadened eligibility to include anyone over the age of 65.
As of Friday morning, Oklahoma ranked No. 8 in the U.S. for vaccines administered per 100,000 people, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state had given 5,141 shots per 100,000 residents, the data shows.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 185,133 first doses had been administered as of Thursday night.
One of Oklahoma’s biggest challenges in vaccine distribution has always been irregular shipments from the federal government. State officials don’t know how many doses to expect beyond one week.
The state expects to receive 48,475 first doses and 32,650 second doses next week, a state Health Department spokesman said.
Reed said he’s confident that Oklahoma could vaccinate people as quickly as federal supply came in.
“My concern is getting more vaccine supply in. At this point, I haven’t seen strong evidence we’re going to see numbers go up weekly like we had hoped they would,” Reed said.