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Oklahomans have an 'obligation' to be vaccinated against COVID-19, one top expert says

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University of Oklahoma chief COVID officer Dr. Dale Bratzler during a livestreamed press briefing on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021.

A leading public health expert says Oklahomans need to consider more than just themselves when weighing whether or not to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

"Think about the people you're around," University of Oklahoma chief COVID officer Dr. Dale Bratzler said during a virtual press briefing Thursday. "It's part of our, what I would call, 'community obligation' to be vaccinated. It's not about me, it's about who I could give the virus to in the community who may not be able to fight off the infection. So please think about that."

Bratzler noted the much higher probability of severe illness or death in certain individuals as a reason for Oklahomans to be mindful of their role in spreading the virus.

"If you're around people who are at substantial risk of complications from this disease, be aware of that, and do the courtesy of wearing a mask and preventing spread of the disease," Bratzler said.

Oklahoma's vaccination rate remains sluggishly low, with just 53.5% of the population fully vaccinated as of Monday morning, per the CDC, for a ranking of 38th in the nation. According to Johns Hopkins University data, Oklahoma had the highest COVID-19 death rate in the nation in 2021.

Bratzler said there are exceedingly few valid medical reasons that could prevent an individual from safely receiving the vaccine, including booster doses. Last month, Gov. Kevin Stitt told reporters he would "probably not" get a booster.

"This is a public health issue," Bratzler said. "It's been so heavily politicized, and so many different things have happened this year — you know, 800,000 deaths in our country, just unbelievable. So, I just hope people will take it seriously, do what you can to protect your kids, your family, those that are immunosuppressed — get the vaccine for them."

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.