Oklahoma’s plan for urban mass coronavirus vaccination sites falls through

State faces another disappointment in federal vaccine supply

  • Catherine Sweeney

Oklahoma health officials are again scaling back their coronavirus vaccination plans because of the federal government.

The state’s urban health departments announced a new partnership to create mass vaccination sites in Oklahoma City and Tulsa during a press conference last week. The plan would use a new stream of vaccine supply — separate from the thousands of doses already distributed to the state.

Deputy Commissioner of Health Keith Reed announced Tuesday the federal government went back on the new stream, and that state supply wouldn’t cut it.

“I’m not going to say I’m mad or angry, I’m just going to say I’m really frustrated with it and definitely disappointed for Oklahoma,” he said.

Officials have been using the phrase POD — or points of dispensing. Health officials from Oklahoma City and Tulsa’s independent health departments announced last week the creation of so-called mega-PODS. Those would use a separate federal stream of vaccine supply to administer 6,000 shots a day in each city.

The Oklahoma City-County Health Department and the Tulsa County Health Department each held a press conference last Thursday, where they announced the plan.

Mega-PODs were to function as a partnership among state and county health officials, FEMA and the National Guard. Reed said during the press conference that the federal government did guarantee the supply — up until it didn’t.

“The information we were given did very specifically say that the PODs would include federal allocation,” Reed said. “And then as we delved into it deeper and started reaching in and asking for more clarification about where the vaccine was coming from. We were told that the fact that there was federal allocation coming with that was actually ‘pre-decisional.’ And I can only assume that ‘pre-decisional’ means that they had the option to change your minds on it. So when we found out that it was no longer going to be (federal) supply with the mega-PODs, then we had to really evaluate our options.”

Although the news was disappointing, he said, it wasn’t necessarily surprising.

“I was a little bit skeptical early on about the allocation coming from the federal government because it didn’t match with what we were hearing about vaccine inventory,” he said. “So I think that that bit of skepticism for me may help manage my expectations about it.”

He also noted this wasn’t the first time that the federal government made a promise about supply and then went back on it.

In January, state health officials were expecting the state’s allocation to increase significantly. For months, federal officials had been discussing a stockpile of vaccines that were reserved for second doses. The outgoing Trump and incoming Biden administrations debated over how best to use it. Then, the Washington Post reported that the Trump Administration had already depleted it.

“I was under the illusion earlier this week that there was additional supply out there, and it was sitting there,” Reed said during the Jan. 15 briefing.

He said he learned that the increase in supply wasn’t coming — but not why — the day before, and that he learned the stockpile didn’t exist from media reports.

During Tuesday’s briefing, Reed acknowledged that disappointments have come from vaccine officials under each administration, and that communications breakdowns like these tend to happen during emergencies.