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.