A winter storm that has blanketed Oklahoma in snow has postponed thousands of COVID-19 vaccinations in the state and delayed tens of thousands of doses that were expected to be delivered from the federal government early this week.
Shipments of vaccine from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were delayed because of bad weather, which contained 110,000 doses to the state, said Oklahoma Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed. Those shipments are expected to arrive sometime this weekend.
Hazardous weather over the past week has slowed Oklahoma’s vaccination efforts and several local health departments announced delays in vaccination appointments.
“Obviously it sets us back on the momentum we’ve had with the program and our overall anticipated rate at which we were vaccinating, it sets us back there,” Reed said. “But we have every intention of compensating and making up ground over the next couple of weeks to get back to that steady state of burning through a vaccine every seven days.”
Winter weather is slowing shipments out of a FedEx facility in Memphis and a UPS facility in Louisville, which serve as shipping hubs for several states.
“Due to the severe winter weather currently impacting a large swath of the country, the U.S. government is projecting widespread delays in COVID-19 vaccine shipments and deliveries over the next few days,” a CDC spokeswoman wrote in an emailed statement Wednesday morning.
Oklahoma typically receives vaccine shipments early in the week, but doses aren’t expected to arrive until Saturday, Reed said. It’s unclear how many shots the state will get then, though the federal government has assured state officials they will eventually receive their full allocation.
“We have some regions that we are anticipating needing the vaccine that’s coming in for the weekend. So it’ll be a close call on some of this vaccine coming in Saturday,” Reed said. “Some of this will come in and it will go almost immediately into use because all of our vaccination efforts haven’t completely stopped. The majority has, but there’s still been vaccines distributed in some scenarios.
“But we feel like we are in a place that as long as it comes in Saturday, like we expect, that we should be good for the supply chain.”
Another 137,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive in the state next week.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Oklahoma was No. 10 in the U.S. for vaccines administered per 100,000 people, according to the CDC. More than 447,000 people had received at least the first dose as of Friday.
Health departments in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Norman postponed vaccination clinics and appointments until at least next week. Officials told The Frontier doses have been set aside for those patients.
As snow and ice made traveling on roads hazardous, the Tulsa Health Department canceled a total of five days of vaccine clinic operations — the equivalent of around 8,000 appointments, said Alicia Etgen, Emergency Preparedness & Response Program Manager for the department.
The health department rescheduled those appointments for the coming weeks.
“The good news is we have the vaccine and the availability to reschedule those. But it does delay the timeline a bit, especially for people who are seeking their second dose,” Etgen said.
If someone received the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, ideally they would get the second shot 21 days and 28 days, respectfully, after the first dose. But if needed, individuals can delay the second dose up to 42 days, according to the CDC.
The delays will hamper the Tulsa Health Department’s ability to add new appointments to its schedule, as days are filled with rescheduled patients, Etgen said. The agency hopes to start adding new appointments in early March.
Though the department hasn’t yet received any vaccine this week, there’s enough vaccine earmarked in storage for the rescheduled appointments. Any new supply coming in would be for new patients, she said.
However, health care providers could likely use more doses now.
“They’ve been able to get those into arms fairly quickly, and they could stand to take more vaccine if we were to get it,” Etgen said.
At the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, about 2,200 appointments have been rescheduled, said Molly Fleming, the department’s public information officer.
One concern for the doses already in the state are power outages caused by weather or controlled blackouts driven by an increased demand for electricity.
Both vaccines must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, though the Pfizer vaccine can be kept at regular refrigeration temperatures for up to seven days.
Many of the facilities where vaccines are stored have a generator in case of a power outage. The agency is monitoring storage temperatures, and if supply can’t be kept properly at a location, it may be transferred to another facility, Reed said.
As of Wednesday morning, the state hadn’t lost any vaccine from an outage, he said. However, the department did have to move supply out of a facility in southern Oklahoma because of a loss of power.
If there is a temperature issue at a facility, the agency will prioritize that vaccine to be quickly administered before it goes to waste, Reed said.
Following cancellations, the health department plans to add clinics that focus on people 65 and older, particularly those in need of their second doses. Weather permitting, those clinics will start this weekend. The department will also start running clinics on Sunday.
“We are used to challenges,” he said. “So we’re rolling with this, making our adjustments. We know there’s good weather coming next week, and it’ll give us the opportunity to make up ground.”