By Michael Kinney
Calls keep pouring into the Comanche County Health Department as people from across the region have questions concerning the COVID-19 vaccines and their availability. They also have complaints and critiques about the process, among other things.
Although it’s been a month since the first series of vaccines were administered, there is still a general state of confusion about how it all works, according to CCHD Region 5 Director Brandie Combs.
“We’ll take their complaints. I get the anxiety. I get the stress, because I’m, frankly, very excited that they want to take the vaccine,” Combs said. “I would be much more troubled and probably losing a whole lot more sleep if we had a freezer full of vaccine that no one would take.”
The rollout for the COVID- 19 vaccines in southwest Oklahoma has not gone smoothly, like much of the state.
Driven by vaccine supply, Combs said health care workers have proven that we can certainly get the vaccine out in the communities.
“Right now, we just simply do not have vaccine available in our state so that we can push it out to our local community,” she said. “We’re anxious for the supply to actually pick up so that we can provide more vaccine in our communities.”
According to Combs, health departments around the state are capable of handling more vaccinations each week. However, they are limited to the number of doses they are given each week by the federal government and Operation Warp Speed.
“It’s making it very difficult to plan because, we may have, for instance, in our district, we might have 2000 doses, which is what we ended up with this week. And next week, we could end up with 5,000 or we could end up with a 1,000,” Combs said. “We just don’t know until (Tuesday).
“If we have the vaccine, we want to push it out, but then we have to allocate for all of southwest Oklahoma based on the supply that we are allocated from the state. The federal government sends it to the state, then that state team divides it up across Oklahoma to the districts. And then, once we get it in our districts, we divide it between the counties.”
While there is not much the state and counties can do about the number of vaccines they get, they did attempt to improve the manner in which vaccinations are scheduled.
The Oklahoma State Health Department released its mobile app last month that allows residents around the state to sign up using their smartphones or by going online.
According to Combs, the app is going to be a great resource for the health departments because all the demographic information can be used to identify which phase people are in, and if they’ve had any allergic reactions.
“It’s essentially taking that paperwork piece away, so it’s going to immediately interface our Oklahoma Immunization Surveillance System (OSIIS),” said Combs. “We’re not having to spend so much time entering this information on a one-to-one basis. For every shot we give, we have to go back and enter that information into OSIIS. So it’s great for that.”
The OSHD also recognizes the vaccine portal does have its drawbacks, especially for those who do not have smartphones or are not used to being online.
“We’re trying to ease that by putting out as much information as we can,” Combs said. “By far, the best way to sign up is going to be through that portal. However, we are putting plans together so that we can accept names at the County Health Department and help them sign up.”
Despite the overwhelming number of signups, according to Combs, only those who are classified in Phase 1 or 2 of the Oklahoma Vaccine Distribution plan will be able to make an appointment at this time. The rest will have to wait until they receive an email telling them they able to schedule an appointment.
“For instance, if you were a teacher for right now, and you signed up expecting to be able to schedule an appointment, you’re not going to be able to do that because we’re not in your phase yet,” Combs said. “However, when we move to that phase, that person should get email that says, ‘Okay, your phase has opened up; go ahead and try to schedule.’ But again, the schedules are based on vaccine availability. So they’re filling up very quickly.”
Another issue is people from other parts of the state signing up and making appointments in southwest Oklahoma. Combs said there is nothing the health department can do about that.
However, the portal system does prevent individuals from signing up in several different cities across the state.
“We’ve already witnessed that people from the metro areas are coming down to Altus to get their vaccine,” she said. “There’s nothing that we can do to prevent that. They’re Oklahomans and we want them to get their vaccine as well. I understand that it frustrates those that are local residents who are trying to get an appointment.”
While Combs said she understands the frustration and anxiety that has permeated the vaccination process, she is still encouraged the state and region is up to the task.
“We’re going to have vaccine. We’ve not seen any indication that the vaccine supply is going to be limited,” she said. “It’s just not coming out as quickly as we had expected. So once we get more vaccine, there’s going to be more providers. You could go to urgent cares, hospitals, doctors, many people have signed up to be a pandemic provider, meaning they can give the vaccine. We just need to get the vaccine supply into Oklahoma, so that it can be distributed.”
Michael Kinney Media
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