Two minutes and a quick poke to a registered nurse’s shoulder muscle in Oklahoma City marked the beginning of a new chapter in the state’s battle against the coronavirus.
Shortly after 2 p.m. on Monday, Hannah White, a registered nurse working in the emergency room at the Integris Baptist Medical Center, became the first person in Oklahoma to receive the COVID-19 vaccine outside of a medical trial.
White, 31, got the vaccine in front of dozens of onlookers, including reporters, hospital workers and state officials. After the shot had been administered, the room broke out in applause.
“Hopefully this is the start of something better,” said White, who told reporters she was holding back tears.
The rollout of the coronavirus vaccine started in Oklahoma on Monday amid the worst surge the state has recorded yet. State officials said they were optimistic and the vaccine represented hope amid a pandemic that so far has killed at least 2,072 Oklahomans.
Gov. Kevin Stitt called it a “historic day.”
“We’re very optimistic. We feel like it is the 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,” Stitt said during a news conference on Monday.
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. The doses were part of an expected shipment of 33,000 shots, and officials said they expect more to arrive at other health care facilities across Oklahoma this week.
The first doses of the vaccine were administered to 10 frontline health care workers at Integris Health on Monday. White said she hoped the rollout of the vaccine was a turning point, and noted that “nobody has to die alone” if people get vaccinated.
“Until you have somebody you love in that bed, and all you have is an iPad to say goodbye, until you understand that a phone call is all you get, it may not change their mind,” White said of people who don’t take the virus seriously. “But to your front-care workers, we’re the ones holding their hands and crying.”
The two-dose vaccine has shown 95 percent effectiveness in clinical trials. State officials 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.
Moderna’s product is awaiting federal Food and Drug Administration approval, but is expected to be approved for emergency use by the end of the week.
The state is 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. Long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, have represented a disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths.
The 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 FDA and about nine months after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Oklahoma.
“The day we’ve been waiting for is here,” Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said.
Frye cautioned that the process of distributing vaccines to every Oklahoman who wants one will take patience. He urged people to continue to social distance, wear masks and wash their hands to slow the spread of the virus.
The vaccine distribution plan may change depending on factors such as supply, how many Oklahomans choose to take the vaccine in each phase and how quickly the state can ship inventory to providers, said Keith Reed, deputy commissioner for the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
Vaccines, which will be offered to people at no cost, will be available to the general public in phase four of the state’s plan.
The Oklahoma National Guard will help distribute the vaccine to sites across the state, said Brig. Gen. Jon Harrison. The Pfizer vaccine presents storage challenges because it must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures.
The FDA has rigorous regulatory processes in place to ensure the safety, effectiveness and quality of vaccines, said Dr. Douglas Drevets, chief of infectious diseases at OU Health.
“This vaccine is as safe as any other vaccine the FDA has approved,” he said.