OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As the number of coronavirus cases in Oklahoma and across the United States continues to skyrocket, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
On Wednesday, data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health shows that the state has had 202,341 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March.
According to the health department’s website, there were 54 additional deaths caused by the virus, bringing the state’s total number of deaths to 1,812.
Officials say the deaths occurred between Oct. 24 and Nov. 30, but say 37 of those patients died since Nov. 26.
It’s not just the Sooner State that is struggling to contain the virus.
The U.S. smashed yet another COVID-19 record Wednesday, recording more than 100,000 hospitalized patients for the first time ever.
U.S. hospitals slammed with COVID-19 patients are trying to lure nurses and doctors out of retirement, recruiting students and new graduates who have yet to earn their licenses and offering eye-popping salaries in a desperate bid to ease staffing shortages.
As the state struggles to contain the virus, leaders with the Oklahoma State Department of Health are looking ahead to vaccine distribution.
Officials say the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine will arrive in Oklahoma next week.
Col. Lance Frye, the Oklahoma Commissioner of Health, says that approval of the Pfizer vaccine for use in the United States could happen as early as Dec. 11.
Once that happens, Frye says Oklahoma could receive 33,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by Dec. 13.
Officials say they have also ordered 10,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, pending approval, which might be available by Dec. 30.
“I think it’s gonna be a gamechanger for us in Oklahoma and throughout the world,” said Frye.
However, that does not mean the general public can access the vaccine immediately.
“The vaccine offers great hope to the many physicians, nurses and other health professionals on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, and we are grateful to Governor Stitt and Commissioner Frye for their efforts in securing these doses,” said Oklahoma State Medical Association President George Monks. “While the coronavirus vaccine is an essential tool in overcoming this terrible virus; it’s important to remember it will not be available to all Oklahomans for several more months. In the meantime, we must all work to stop the spread of this disease by washing our hands, watching our distance and wearing a mask when in public.”
Oklahoma moving forward with phased approach
Instead, state leaders say they are implementing a phased approach to distribute the vaccine to those most at risk for the virus.
“An effort of this magnitude will not happen overnight,” said Keith Reid, Deputy Commissioner with Community Health Services.
Phase one of the vaccine distribution plan will begin with the first doses reserved for frontline healthcare workers.
The federal government has already developed a contract through Operation Warp Speed to provide the vaccine to long-term care facilities. Officials say that distribution will likely be one to two weeks after the vaccines start being distributed to frontline healthcare workers.
Officials stress that Pfizer requires two doses, but the first shipment of vaccines will only include the first dose. The second dose will be given within 21 days from a subsequent shipment.
Officials say the general public will not have access to the vaccine until sometime in 2021.
“This won’t be an immediate solution,” Frye said.
In the meantime, Oklahomans still need to wear masks, wash their hands, and keep their distance to slow the spread of the virus.
Difference between Pfizer, Moderna vaccine
Health officials say that the safety and efficacy of both vaccines are pretty similar. However, the stabilization agents are very different which is why the Pfizer vaccine needs to be preserved at such a low temperature.
Officials say those stabilizing agents will definitely play a role in which vaccine is provided to certain areas.
Reid explained that once a box of the Pfizer vaccines is opened, all of the vaccines in the box need to be used by a certain time so they do not go to waste.
The Moderna vaccine has more flexibility and could be used in more mobile types of distributions.
Distribution sites around the state
For the first phase of the vaccine distribution, officials say predetermined sites have been selected from around the state to provide vaccines to healthcare workers.
Once the first phase is over, officials say they will rely on ‘pandemic providers’ who will be able to distribute vaccines to patients in their area.
Individual hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies can sign up as a pandemic provider to be registered as one of the first locations to receive a vaccine.
Officials stress that if a clinic is not registered as a pandemic provider, they will not receive any shipments of either vaccine from the government.
Once the vaccine is available, they say it will be free of charge to Americans.
Feelings about the vaccines
Col. Frye said that they anticipate that most Oklahomans will want to take a vaccine once it is available.
A recent survey showed that only 33% of Americans had real concerns about taking either vaccine when they become available.
“I would absolutely take this vaccine,” Col. Frye said.