Phase 2 Vaccination Questions Answered
January 14, 2021
Last Thursday marked the beginning of Pottawatomie County's Phase 2 rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations.
Phase 1 vaccinations have been ongoing for some time, but the beginning of Phase 2 marks a drastic increase in the number of Oklahomans eligible for the vaccine. In Phase 1, only health workers, long term care facility residents and staff, and public health staff were eligible to receive vaccinations. With the rollout of phase 2, a wide variety of groups are now eligible to get vaccinated.
In this still early stage of the vaccine rollout, Oklahoma seems to be a step ahead of other states. Oklahoma ranks 8th in the nation for vaccines distributed per 100,000 residents as of Jan. 12, according to the CDC's COVID-19 data tracker.
Even as vaccination numbers increase, many Oklahomans are still unsure of how to go about the process of receiving their vaccination. The Countywide & Sun spoke to emergency management directors and public health officials from several localities this week, in order to answer some basic questions about the process.
Who can get the vaccine?
Right now, the state is on Phase 2 of a four-part vaccination rollout plan. According to the OSDH's website, this includes adults over the age of 65, teachers and staff at pre-K through 12th grade schools, all first responders, public health supporting staff, and all remaining healthcare workers.
Anyone who would have been eligible in Phase 1, but has not received a vaccine yet, is also eligible for a vaccine appointment.
How do I set up an appointment? Do I need one?
The state has launched a vaccination scheduling portal, which can be found online at vaccinate.oklahoma.gov. To get an appointment, Oklahomans will need to fill out a questionnaire, to see if they qualify for a Phase 2 vaccination. If eligible, vaccine recipients will then need to schedule an appointment, based on availability.
Shawnee Emergency Management Director Rachelle Erickson said the first week's pod appointments were filled within 30 minutes of becoming available.
"I couldn't even get Shawnee Fire and Police in on it, it was so quick," Erickson said.
County Emergency Management Director Chad Larman said that represented more than 600 doses of vaccine.
Pottawatomie County Health Department spokesperson Sara King said requiring appointments is the only effective way to manage Oklahoma's limited supply of COVID-19 vaccinations. She said health officials don't know how many doses they'll have available for the next week's appointments until Tuesday.
"We're seeing people be able to book appointments," King said. "Our appointments for this week did get filled up. So the portal is working successfully."
King pointed out that although the portal may not be working perfectly for every individual, the state's vaccination portal is doing its job from a logistics standpoint.
"The only way we can move forward though, is if we move forward with these vaccine appointments," King said. "And as long as they're filled, we're getting closer and closer to that person being able to get their vaccine."
Mike Potter, local emergency response coordinator for the OSDH, said at a recent Bethel school board meeting that appointment spots should open on Wednesday night around midnight for vaccinations the following Thursday.
There is an alternative option for Oklahomans who cannot access the online portal, King said, although she emphasized that it was less efficient than signing up online. Oklahomans who need an alternative way to schedule their vaccines can dial 211 to set up an appointment through the state health department.
Where can I get the vaccine?
Pottawatomie County's vaccine pod site has been set up at FireLake Arena between Tecumseh and Shawnee. The Countywide & Sun met with several emergency management officials at that site last Wednesday, one day prior to the first operational day of the vaccination pod.
The pod is being overseen and managed by several different government entities, including emergency managers from the CPN, the county, and the City of Shawnee. CPN Emergency Manager Tim Zientek said this unified effort on the part of multiple different agencies is just what Oklahomans need to see from their public officials.
"Our biggest deal is just showing that we're all working together, to accomplish the same goal," Zientek said. "And it's a joint effort by all the communities, and the state."
However, King said the county health department is also offering vaccinations at their local clinics as they become available.
"These larger pods are one thing, where we can have that throughput," King said. "But then we're also able to accommodate, as inventory allows, appointments at our local health department clinics."
She said the plan is to keep the vaccination pod at FireLake open for Thursday appointments for the foreseeable future.
"But all of that is very much dependent on the inventory we get," King said.
What should I expect from my vaccine appointment?
Erickson explained that folks will check in, be assigned to a vaccination group, and wait in the arena parking lot until their group is called. Once called, everyone in a given group will file into a waiting area near the arena entrance, and shots will be administered one at a time.
Once recipients have received their vaccine, CDC guidelines require between 15 and 30 minutes of observation, Erickson said.
She said paramedics will be on standby to respond to anyone who has an adverse reaction to the vaccination, and a screen will be set up to offer those individuals some privacy. Such reactions are also quite rare, but the CDC website advises that vaccinated individuals may experience pain and swelling in the injection arm, and fever, chills, tiredness, or a headache.
Both Larman and Zientek had received doses of the vaccine when they spoke to The Countywide & Sun on Wednesday.
Larman said he experienced some side effects, namely an upset stomach and injection site pain. He classified both conditions as very minor, and certainly preferable to coming down with COVID-19. Zientek said he did not experience any side effects.
Both men said the vaccines, some of which must be stored at extremely low temperatures, feel no different going in than any other shot.
"They have to bring it up to room temperature before they can mix it," Larman said. "So, it's mixed with normal saline, they invert it, and then they can draw it out after that."
He said recipients will be asked to schedule their second dose appointment before leaving the injection site. Furthermore, they should receive a card with the appointment date, and a notification from the state reminding them of their upcoming second appointment.
What if I miss my second appointment?
Zientek said if an individual receives their first dose, but misses their second, all is not lost.
"It's not the end of the world," Zimteck said. "You can still go ahead and get your second appointment, and second shot, at a later date."
He said there was between a two and four day window in which it is acceptable to receive a second dose, so those who miss their appointments can call the county health department to try to schedule another.
I'm not eligible yet. When can I get the vaccine?
That all depends on how long it takes to vaccinate the Phase 2 population, Erickson said. Larman said the earliest predictions for the beginning of Phase 3 are sometime in the summer.
Most of Oklahoma's population will become eligible in Phases 3 and 4, and the vaccination pod will switch to a drive through format, Erickson said.
The FireLake Arena parking lot will have a line of cars snaking through, she said, towards the registration tent. There, individuals with appointments will check in, and be sorted into the four-lane vaccine line.
"We have a station on each side," Erickson said, "and it's going to be full of nurses that are going to be giving vaccines, and logging into the system that they've received it."
The nurses will also ask patients if they've had any adverse reactions before to any vaccine. Those who answer yes will be monitored for 30 minutes after their shot, while everyone else will be monitored for 15 minutes. Patient vehicles will be marked by masking tape, to identify their observation length.
After receiving their shot, patients will pull forward to a separate area and be monitored by members of the Shawnee Fire Department.
"We will have three Shawnee Fire Department paramedics on scene, and they'll be walking," Erickson said, motioning around the lot.
She said the paramedics will be constantly checking with vaccine recipients through their car windows, and be prepared to respond in the instance that anyone starts feeling ill.
Again, no specific rollout date for Phases 3 or 4 has been announced by the state or county health departments as of Jan. 12. Per the OSDH vaccination plan, Phase 3 will include essential workers, as well as teachers, staff and students at educational facilities other than Pre-K through 12th grade. Phase 4 will see vaccinations become available to any Oklahoman who has not yet been vaccinated.