Tulsa Health Dept. Works To Speed Up COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Monday, December 21st 2020, 5:18 pm

TULSA, Okla. -

The Tulsa Health Department is working to speed up the process in giving out COVID-19 vaccines.

The Tulsa Health Department hasn't reached their own expectations of how many vaccine doses they could deliver in a day, but hospitals are taking on some of the work, ensuring their own employees can get the vaccine as soon as it's available.

Last week, over four days, the Health Department reports administering 600 doses in a drive thru clinic reserved for healthcare workers. Saint Francis Hospital is administering vaccine in the hospital and a drive through by the Warren Clinic. Saint Francis has not released how many doses they had administered. Saturday, Hillcrest started vaccinating employees.

Ellen Niemitalo, a Registered Nurse who manages Clinic Services for the Health Department, said it's been challenging to schedule people approved for the vaccine.

"There's been a little bit of difficulty scheduling appointments, really just reaching people who are working shift work, to get in touch with them to schedule their appointments," said Niemitalo.

The priority list for vaccination was determined by the federal government, but the Tulsa Health Department said individual hospitals self-reported who on their staff was qualified to get it. The Health Department estimated there were 13,800 people in the first priority group in Tulsa County.

Saint Francis has converted a drive-thru flu vaccine clinic into a COVID-19 vaccination site, with two drive-thru lanes, and room for people to park and wait the required 15 minutes after getting the vaccination. Monday, it did not appear busy, with no more than a few people there at a time, and clearly the capacity to handle many more.

The Health Department started administering vaccine last Tuesday, expecting to give 100 doses per day for the first two days, and 350 each day after. Niemitalo said the process of giving the vaccine with the required wait afterward is taking longer than expected. The precaution of maintaining physical distance adds to the wait, she said. The vaccine, from Pfizer, requires unusual procedures for storage and handling, and each step is carefully documented for each vial of vaccine.

The Health Department has planned and practiced for this moment for many years. In a 2003 disaster drill centered around a hypothetical smallpox outbreak, THD estimated it could vaccinate 600,000 people in nine days, with a complicated injection. During the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, THD used the fairgrounds for mass vaccinations, but that was a quick nasal vaccine that only took seconds.

The Health Department is urging people to use the precautions of wearing masks, keeping a distance and hand-washing, while the supply of vaccine increases, and the ability to administer it builds. Niemitalo said within a few months, vaccines for the general public will be easy to access.

"It's going to be similar to the flu vaccine, where people can get it through their primary care provider, or a pharmacy, or their place of work," said Niemitalo.