Local COVID vaccination phases detailed

Betty Frogg

TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma – COVID-19 vaccinations continue to roll out for residents of the Cherokee Nation's 14-county reservation, as the capital city's two hospital systems work to inoculate the local population.

Northeastern Health System in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, expected to receive an additional allocation of vaccines Jan. 6 to give to hospital staff and first responders, following the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s COVID-19 Vaccine Priority Population Framework. NHS is still in Phase 1, which calls for long-term care residents and staff; health care workers providing direct inpatient COVID care; public health staff conducting front-line pandemic mitigation and control activities; and Oklahoma medical technicians and paramedics.

Jim Berry, executive vice president and hospital administrator, said the NHS COVID-19 Vaccination Task Force has done an outstanding job.

“To date, the team has distributed 376 vaccines with zero wasted doses. The Medical Emergency Response Center has held NHS as an exemplary vaccine site; that is an outstanding compliment to the efforts of our team," he said.

According to OSHD, Phase 2 calls for vaccinations to go to first responders; health care workers providing direct COVID outpatient care and services; adults ages 65 and older; staff and residents in congregate locations, such as homeless shelters, prisons and jails, and certain manufacturing facilities; and public health staff supporting front line efforts, senior state, county and city government leaders. Teachers, students, school staff are included in Phase 3 of the framework, as are critical infrastructure personnel, which includes essential workers. The OSHD estimates both populations in Phase 3 make up around 1.5 million Oklahomans. Phase 4 is for all Oklahoma residents, the anticipated initiation of which has yet to be determined.

Meanwhile, a couple thousand Cherokee Nation citizens have been vaccinated since the tribe first received vaccines in mid-December. It recently started scheduling vaccinations for elders ages 65 and up who are eligible to receive care from Cherokee Nation Health Services.

“With limited supplies of the vaccine, we are administering vaccinations according to the phased distribution plan and making sure our most vulnerable populations, including our health workers, speakers and elders, receive the vaccine first,” said CNHS Executive Director Dr. R. Stephen Jones.

The vaccinations are being administered by appointment only, and the tribe has already begun calling patients who fall within Phase 1A or 1B of the CNHS phased distribution plan. CN’s Phase 1 includes W.W. Hastings Hospital staff, CN first responders, Cherokee Elder Care participants and staff, Cherokee first language speakers, Cherokee National Treasurers, and people 65 and older. Once the tribe reaches Phase 2A, those who will be able to schedule appointments include non-health care critical staff, like CN teachers, child care staff, infrastructure personnel, food security staff, and people 55 and older with underlying health conditions. Phase 2B of the CN plan includes people in congregate settings, other critical workers, and patients with underlying health conditions. In Phase 3, all adults without underlying health conditions, young adults and children, and all eligible recipients not previously vaccinated, will be able to schedule appointments.

In a Tahlequah Daily Press Saturday Forum on Facebook Jan. 2, readers were asked about their experience with the vaccine if they had already received it, and whether those who haven’t received it planned on getting it. Those who did get it said they’ve had little to no side effects.

Patti Gulager, a long-time health care administrator and nurse, said she was in line to get her second dose Wednesday.

“I had no side effects except a sore arm and am not expecting much more than that the next time,” she said. “CDC is doing a great job with the app tracking side effects. That was a great idea.”

Mary Moates, also nurse, received hers last week.

“I had soreness in the muscle at the injection site, and the following day, I had a headache and the chills off and on, and general fatigue,” she said. “I drank a bunch of water, went to bed early and have felt fine since.”

Several respondents said they would not be getting the shots, but did not offer an explanation. Meanwhile, others who said they are not against vaccines would like to wait and see what effects others have before they take it.

In an online poll, readers were asked what their plans are regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. Of the respondents, 48 percent said they have not taken it, but plan to as soon as possible; 23.2 percent said they will definitely not take it; 11.2 percent said they have not taken it, but will once enough other people have taken it to make them trust the vaccine; 9.6 percent said they probably won’t take it; 7.2 percent said they’ve already received it and had no ill effects; and .8 percent said they’ve taken it, but had a reaction.

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