A Shot in the Dark: Confusion and uncertainty in Oklahoma’s COVID vaccine rollout

The last time I ordered a round of shots I was sitting in a bar in Montreal on March 13, 2020 celebrating my 5 year wedding anniversary. A few hours later, I received an email from the US Embassy in Ottawa warning that the Canadian government may restrict travel to the US with no warning. Four days later, I sat in the airport watching live TV as Justin Trudeau announced closing of the US/Canadian border within 72 hours. I was packing my bag on March 11 to leave for Canada when we still had an entire NBA season to look forward to. I returned on March 17, we had Tiger King and at least 10 months of sheltering-in-place to look forward to.

Few could have predicted the impact COVID-19 would have on the livelihood of Oklahomans, but it doesn’t mean our leaders are free from blame. You don’t have to be a genius obscure blogger to understand that keeping antiquated unemployment assistance portal open while closing multiple rural hospitals since 2010 was a dangerous decision or that cutting $4.5 million in Health Department funding for 2020 would be catastrophic for our already overworked county health departments. Pandemic or not, this thinking in the short-term has and will continue to have long-term negative consequences for our state.

In the words of Hannah Montana, “everybody makes mistakes.” I mean, I guess.

On New Year’s Eve I ordered my first round of shots in almost 10 months, except this time it was from the free website signupgenius.com instead of a bartender. Since when I’m not writing for TLO I moonlight as a mental health care provider, I qualified for what the state deemed, “Phase 2” of the vaccine rollout plan. Though I was scheduled earlier than many, I tried to sign up five times (and in four counties) before I actually secured a spot.

The CDC required each state to provide a vaccination plan before receiving doses of the inoculation. According to a draft of Oklahoma’s plan, shipments of the vaccine are to be sent to local county health departments who are in charge of coordinating the tracking and administration of the vaccines. You remember, the ones that just lost about $4.5 million in funding this year.

Sure, a mass vaccine rollout was destined to be a shitshow at first because there are a lot of moving parts to take into consideration. We have to be patient and know county health department workers are doing the best that they can (and a damn good job at that). But placing the responsibility on the county health departments to coordinate their own rollouts after drastically reducing their financial support makes sure that the shitshow is the local departments’ problem, not our state government’s problem.

Who’s up for another round of personal responsibility?

Being that each county is in charge of its own rollout, my fellow healthcare providers have had varied experiences securing their shot slot. But one thing was fairly uniform: it was a pain in the ass to actually get signed up. Many of the vaccines are being scheduled through an online scheduling portal, which sounds efficient until you realize that Phase 2 inoculations also includes the 65+ age group, a set of individuals who—with all due respect, grandma– are more likely to have Facebook profiles that mass tag their friends in “Ray Bans—$19.99” ads than have the know-how or even internet access to sign up on a website. KFOR reported last week that many of our seniors are feeling left out of the process, even though they may be the ones who need it most.

It’s the first time grandma tagged me in anything since she died 2 years ago.

As of now, our choices for signing up for the vaccine include watching county health department Facebook pages for signup sheets, registering with the Oklahoma Department of Health to be notified when your phase is up, or calling 2-1-1 for help. Your experience then depends on where and when you schedule your vaccine.

While some of my former coworkers referred to their vaccine experiences in December as a “super-spreader event” due to people lining up by the dozens inside the clinic, the longer the rollout is going, the better the experience seems to be. After signing up and attending a clinic in a rural county last week, my colleague Lois said, “It was quite organized and efficient.” After her appointment at an Oklahoma County event, my friend Danielle told me, “People moved through the line quickly and was in and out in an hour.” My friend Sarah works for a regional hospital and stated, “I’m so fortunate to have received the Pfizer vaccine through my place of work. I walked in, filled out the paperwork and received the shot within minutes.”

Now that the kinks are being worked out and the rollout is becoming efficient and successful, how long until the Oklahoma government takes credit for the efficacy of the plan?

As for my experience, I finally got a slot down in Norman last Friday. I convoyed with my classmate Amy and rolled up to the mall parking lot, which was occupied by the Oklahoma National Guard. I was told to remain in my vehicle until the soldier with the blue flag marched by, signaling my permission to enter the mall’s clinic.

Oh, to be stationed at exotic Ft. Sooner Mall.

Including my 15 minute post-vaccination observation time, I was in and out in 21 minutes with my second round prescheduled 3 weeks later. As someone whose job has brought them to packed ERs over the last few months, I feel relieved and grateful to finally get vaccinated. But I am afraid it will be a while before we are back in “precedented” times.

Go here to sign up to be alerted when it’s your turn. Then follow Hayley on twitter @squirrellygeek and become a contributing member of TLO here.

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22 Responses

  1. FUD surrounding COVID vaccinations at underfunded county health departments? Haven’t you learned? This is what “smaller government” looks like!

    I submitted my application for a vaccination appointment online. The website at vaccinate.oklahoma.gov is glitchy, but I was able to get through it last week. Today I got an email saying that “You are now eligible to book your appointment to receive the COVID-19 Vaccine.” When I “CLICK HERE TO BOOK APPOINTMENT,” all four county health departments within 25 miles of me (as the crow flies, apparently) to which they referred me announced: “No available booking slots at this time.” Not even thirty days from now. How nice. Now what?

    I don’t have Hayley’s VIP pass to get vaccinated, so I guess I’ll just stay home a while longer. Maybe this summer will be the one when COVID, like the flu, will “disappear, like magic.”

    1. Expand your search area to 100 miles if feasible for you. 100 miles from OKC encompasses 60-70 locations.

  2. Ah, milennials. It is so obvious a group of milennial bureaucrats dreamed up the Oklahoma Health Department plan. I mean, what planner, in their right mind, would just assume 80+ year old Oklahomans would be on FB? Good Lord. And, be able to navigate a digital portal. No disrespect, but there may be some old folks out there still climbing the telephone pole to make a call like in Green Acres. #GOPlahoma has kept most Oklahomans poor…..but the hipsters assume they all are on FB, have wifi, and laptops. Let’s hope this is Oklahoma’s last pandemic. The poor, aged, and disenfranchised in Oklahoma cannot survive another milennial attempt at planning.

    1. You’re almost correct and the break point came around 1970 or so. Older people can use computers, it’s just that when you weren’t around them from birth and had ‘other’ people to do your computer work by the hour, learning to code or figure out the Okla. unemployment website was really just never on your list of priorities. For crying out loud how difficult is it to type in youp………………….?

  3. It was the year 2020, and a strange virus had invaded the world!!!!

    People got infected here and there and some of them died. Well, lots of them actually, but who’s counting? Pesky statistics, and what not. I ain’t got no time fur THAT.

    Fast forward in slow motion to a year later, and it was 2021 in a place called Oklahoma.

    In Oklahoma, if everybody in the state suddenly wanted or needed a deep-fried cotton candy coated corn dog stuffed with cheese and covered with syrup made from Liberal’s tears, well…Oklahomans would GIT ‘ER DONE! Within days! A corn dog in everyone’s pie hole! YEEEEEEEEEEEE-HAW!

    Vaccine against the virus I mentioned? Um, well, we still got some logistics-ifyin’ yet to do here, Bubba. Be patient. Give us another coupla decades, can ya?

  4. Complete cluster f*ck. I got an email telling me I was eligible on Saturday. I signed up and saw that every vaccination center within 100 miles was booked. Like none available. Zero. Nada. None.

    And then saw that 2/3 of vaccine hasn’t even been administered. Typical OKLA bullshit. Make it a lottery rather than an orderly process. Is there nothing that republicans can’t screw up? Why in hell would they open up appointments and know that 90% of the folks couldn’t get in?

    And then we have that stupid Channel 9 screen crawl. The crawl should say, “All vaccinations are booked at this time”. Now that would be practical news. Jesus, I wish they’d just closed down channel 9- Well that’s my two cents!!!!!!!! shit.

    1. I’ll report the Mrs and I just got appointments. We saw an opening and were literally competing against each other for confirmation times. Although I registered first, her appointment time is a day earlier. So we’ll make two separate trips rather then being scheduled together.

      I suppose it keeps our oil barons happy to add another trip to the City and back. I’d take a motorcycle if it wasn’t going to be in the low 40s.

      1. According to the web site, the venue charges $14 for parking. Calls there were not answered. So add another $28 to bill.

        Okie Economics Report

        1. Just got thru and no parking fee there

  5. My experience has been same as above which is concerning since I live within 2 miles of a dept of health facility built with tax dollar. Why is this centrally located facility not being used instead of Mercy on memorial. Is it in deference to the upper echelon in Edmond.Say it ain’t so !!!!

  6. What’s the point of being classified as phase two when you’re unable to schedule an appointment?

  7. That heading of A Shot In The Dark couldn’t have been more spot-on with a modern day Chauncey Gardner as out governor.

  8. Lost Ogle, you need to dig into who’s responsible for these websites, and those at the Department of Human Services. Follow the money, and see if it’s being wasted at OMES, or our state leaders / state agency leaders pumping money to BS IT consultants (aka buddies).

  9. I too got the “go schedule your appointment” email, yesterday. I’ve done searches every couple of hours at the 100 mile radius, as others mentioned NO APPOINTMENTS. The State says they release more slots when shipments come in. Why can’t we see this shipping info? Why isn’t there a website that shows us the vaccine inventory and which counties are receiving how much? That would helpful, yes I know not all seniors are tech smart but if there way some sort of help function on the website that would be great. Right now I will continue my daily quest to find an open slot somewhere in our great state. Good luck all.

    1. Why in hell would they send out more appointment e-mails when there were no open slots since Saturday when they sent me the same? I think everything got filled late last week when the “over 80 group” was booked; my mom got an appointment then. Perhaps there were a few slots left and rather than going to down 78 and older they opened to 65+ overwhelming the whole deal.

      I saw on the volunteer site for first group done the previous week had several unspecified groups that appeared to be for VIPs. I think there are still many medical workers that haven’t been vaccinated.

  10. The vaccine rollout in Oklahoma has been a disaster for sure. It is further compounded by the fact that not all counties have a health department. Dewey County is one such county. Our vaccination program is being handled by the Custer County Health Department, which has enough to handle taking care of their own citizens, but are actually doing a great job. They are holding weekly clinics in multiple locations in both counties, but finding out about those clinics is the hard part. At first you had to monitor their Facebook pages to find out about clinics, but now that is not necessary as the state website is a fairly good resource of information. I got my first shot last week, a very “painless” process and have my appointment already scheduled for the second shot in 3 weeks.

  11. The COVID-19 vaccination program is nothing short of a CF which is typical of Oklahoma.

  12. This just means a few more months in the cave. Is anything going on in the Country? I sent an email to Governor Stitt advising him that we have plenty of refrigerators out here in the country at cattle working facilities pretty much State wide. He’s coming out tomorrow and bringing his help too. Beer can be reshuffled to make room for doses.

  13. Government in action.
    Kinda like the post office – mailed a package to Florida December 10; still hasn’t arrived.

    God help us if we are ever subjected to total government run healthcare.

    1. That happens when republicans run the govt. The party that hates govt.

      Republicans: “Failing Govt Since 1980”

  14. I’m older than 65, have (what I consider minor) listed comorbidities, signed up on the online portal the day it was available with no problems A day later I received the initial “You’re approved!” e-mail from the state. And it said I’m phase 2, but other people are currently ahead of me. I’d have to wait. Which is fine by me.

    But I’m getting mighty damned annoyed by all this “people over 65 are currently being vaccinated” from various news sources. Something is amiss. I don’t know what it is, but, Hannah, perhaps there’s a story for you to investigate.

  15. The worst is seeing people posting their smiling mugs with their vax cards on social media. The folks doing this are younger and don’t actually belong in the current phases (healthcare, first responder, health ailments), but just happen to “know somebody” or have done favors for those involved with the distribution. When they get called out about the hypocrisy they say, “well I hope you’re able to get it soon. Stay safe!”

    The other constant is people listing out all the reasons why they should be before anyone else. Sorry, “we’re all in this together”. You are not any more special than anyone else in your Phase Group. Saving children from a burning school bus does not put you first in line.

    Thanks for coming to my TedTalk.

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