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Officials 'Not Giving Up' On Getting Okla. Vaccine Rate Out From Near Bottom Of National Rankings

Oklahoma State Department of Health
Oklahoma State Department of Health Deputy Commissioner Keith Reed during a virtual media briefing on Thursday.

A top state health official said Thursday that the Oklahoma State Department of Health is not giving up on improving COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state after weeks of placing near the bottom in national rankings.

"We're not resigned to the fact that this is where we're going to sit," deputy state health commissioner Keith Reed told reporters during a virtual media briefing. "We're talking about options of continuing to increase interest in vaccines, and we will continue to push for that. It may take a little longer. We may really trudge through this through the summer. But we're going to fight for every dose and get as much vaccine into Oklahomans as possible."

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of Thursday morning Oklahoma ranked 41st of 50 states for percent of the total population fully vaccinated, at 34.4%. The national average was 42.5%, with the most vaccinated state being Vermont (59.5%) and the least vaccinated being Mississippi (27.9%).

Reed said demand had dropped off "precipitously," to the point that the state has not requested new vaccine allotments from the federal stockpile in roughly one month. As of Thursday, the state also had more than 100,000 doses on hand that would expire by the end of June if not administered -- a likelihood given the current daily average of around 4,500 doses being given per day in Oklahoma, Reed said.

Reed said based on survey data thusfar, OSDH predicts at least 65 or 66% of Oklahomans will ultimately get vaccinated, though it may take a while.

"We would hope for it to be higher," Reed said. "We would like to get to that 70% number that is put out there [by the Biden administration]."

"Though we also want to be realistic on what Oklahomans are interested in doing and want to do. We know Oklahomans value personal choice, personal decision," Reed said. 

"It would probably take months to get there at our current rate, so -- which isn't necessarily, you know, a terrible thing, because our big thing is we're looking at the fall as when we have the greatest concern for a resurgence, going into that, so we do have some time," Reed said.

Reed said the state was not yet prepared to launch any incentive programs like other states have done, whether it be in the form of a cash prize lottery or giveaways, but that discussions have been ongoing.

"It could result in, I guess, a delay on getting some people to the table to get vaccinated, but I think we're going into a time right now during the summer that we can take a little bit of time and make a good decision about what that would be, and make sure we make the right decision and if we do an incentive program for Oklahoma," Reed said. 

Reed said he hoped Oklahomans who have indicated they will never be vaccinated will in time change their mind.

"Part of that is hoping that as time has gone on and they've seen the success of the program and look at that that they will be swayed by the data, by the facts," Reed said. 

"I mean, look at what has happened with hospitalizations, in case counts, not just in Oklahoma but across the nation," Reed said. "Vaccines work. I mean, vaccines work."

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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