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A look at how the state distributes vaccines

As more Oklahomans become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the state's distribution system attempts to strike a balance between logistical complexity and the unpredictability of human behavior.

That means delaying distribution of about three days' worth of vaccine from state-allocated shipments to ensure supply won't come up short between deliveries.

"It is really very tight when we start running through this vaccine," Keith Reed, deputy commissioner of the Oklahoma State Health Department, said last week. "We don't always know when the shipments are coming.

The only thing that "saved" the state during the two weeks of winter weather was appointment cancellations, he said.

New shipments can be received between Monday and Wednesday in any given week, and the doses that are held over from the prior shipment give a cushion in case the next shipment comes later rather than sooner and allows appointments to go on as planned.

"If (appointment-holders) show up, we want to be able to provide them vaccine," Reed said. "Risk is if our shipment is delayed, we might have to cancel clinics or appointments," around which people plan their schedules.

With that little overlap, "we can manage the risk and maximize the rates at which we're getting vaccine into people," Reed said.

The process was designed with public trust in mind, Reed said, but it also can skew data.

A Becker's Hospital Review ranking showed that Oklahoma had distributed a little more than 70% of its total COVID-19 vaccine allotment on Friday, ranking it 35th in the nation for rollout rates, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

And although the CDC recorded 1,181,414 doses administered in the state on Friday, Reed reported 1,046,626 administered. The CDC figure includes both state and federal allocation of vaccines sent to the state, whereas the state figure includes only those that the Oklahoma State Department of Health receives, he said.

The ranking is probably accurate "at a point in time," but it would depend on the day you look at it considering the state's model, and even then the data would require much qualification, he said.

The federal allocation of vaccines includes those sent to multiple federal entities such as Indian Health Services, Veterans Assistance centers, Bureau of Prisons personnel, federally licensed health care centers and participating pharmacies of the federal retail pharmacy program, Reed said.

As for the state's distribution model, Reed said any vaccine unused if a recipient fails to show at an appointment is rolled back into the total available and assigned to the next eligible arm.

But the Health Department is optimistic about the size of vaccine shipments steadily increasing, which will allow the state not only to roll out the vaccine at higher volumes, but also to open up additional access points around the state.

Early on, Reed said, he respected those who were eligible to receive the vaccine but waited so others in greater need could get it before them, but the state is inching away from that sacrifice still being necessary.

"I think we're starting to transition to a place now where people, if they're eligible, they need to go ahead now and step up and get it," he said. "They're helping themselves, but they're also helping other people, as well."