Every Oklahoman 16 and older will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine starting Monday, state officials announced, an expansion that will add an estimated 500,000 people.
Tuesday’s announcement comes two weeks after state officials started Phase 3 of Oklahoma’s four-stage vaccine distribution plan, which dramatically expanded eligibility by opening appointments to critical infrastructure workers, as well as teachers and staff of schools outside of preK-12.
“No more screening for eligibility groups, no more need for personal contemplation about whether you are eligible or should get the vaccine. If you are over 16 and live in Oklahoma, you are eligible and should get vaccinated,” Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed said.
Oklahoma State Department of Health officials announced the expansion of eligibility Tuesday morning during a virtual news conference. The move to open up vaccine appointments to all Oklahomans signals the expansion of vaccine availability across the state. Prior to officials opening up vaccines to everyone, the vast majority of Oklahomans were already eligible.
Several tribal nations have already offered vaccines to anyone 18 and older, regardless of tribal affiliation.
State officials opened up eligibility because vaccine supply has been consistent and is growing, with Oklahoma getting about 180,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna each week, Reed said. Officials want to protect as many people from the virus as possible.
“We want to stop transmission of COVID in the community, which means we’ve got to get the public vaccinated,” he said.
On Monday, IMMY Labs President Sean Bauman told KOCO that supply for the company’s mass vaccination pod in Oklahoma City had outpaced demand and called on state officials to expand eligibility to all Oklahomans.
As of Tuesday morning, Oklahoma ranked No. 13 among states and Washington D.C. for vaccine administration per 100,000 residents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Oklahoma administered its first vaccine on Dec. 14, prioritizing frontline health care workers. Those eligible in previous phases can still make an appointment to get a vaccine. Oklahomans can also check with local providers, such as physicians and pharmacies, for an appointment.
About 71 percent of Oklahomans 65 and older had gotten at least one dose of the vaccine as of Tuesday, according to data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. More than 1 million Oklahomans have received at least one dose — about 27 percent of the state’s population, the data shows.
Oklahoma is administering the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine is approved for those 16 and older, while Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are approved for people 18 and older. Vaccine trials are pending for children.
Hospitalizations and new cases of COVID-19 have steadily declined in Oklahoma since they peaked in January.
As of Monday, 216 Oklahomans were hospitalized because of COVID-19, the lowest number since June, according to the state health department. The seven-day rolling average for new cases was at 373 on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, Texas health officials announced the state would soon open up eligibility to all adult Texans. Mississippi, Arizona and Alaska recently opened up vaccine appointments to the general public. President Joe Biden has said that he expects enough vaccine supply for all adults in the U.S. by the end of May.
Oklahoma officials hope to eventually launch mobile vaccination efforts and walk-in clinics, Reed said.
“Our work isn’t done yet,” he said. There’s still others around us who may not be vaccinated yet. Let’s continue to mask up in public places and be mindful of the CDC’s recommendations, as the remainder of Oklahomans schedule their appointments.”