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vaccine vaccination
People wait in line for masks and food in Harlem in New York City in April. African Americans are at much higher risk of contracting COVID-19 as whites. Some states are taking steps to diminish that gap during the pandemic, including providing additional testing and giving out personal protective equipment in vulnerable communities with large populations of minorities.
Bebeto Matthews/The Associated Press

President Biden on Tuesday announced a major shift in vaccine rollout strategy as vaccination rates plummet in states nationwide. According to the Washington Post, states will still receive weekly allotments of the vaccine based on their population, but any unused doses will be stockpiled weekly in a federal bank for redistribution to states in short supply.

This shift is likely to affect states like Oklahoma that have seen a significant drop in vaccinations over recent months. As the vaccine rollout began, Oklahoma’s tribal nations were leaders in effective distribution of the shots. These efforts boosted Oklahoma’s national ranking for vaccine distribution, prompting self-adulation from Governor Stitt as he boasted about Oklahoma’s “top ten” status.

Oklahoma’s vaccine distribution stalls

Now, with more than six in ten Oklahomans still in need of the first shot, vaccination rates have plummeted.  A daily tracker from the New York Times shows that only 30% of all Oklahomans have been fully vaccinated, with some counties reporting numbers as low as 17%. 

That same tracker shows much of Oklahoma’s vaccine stockpile remains unused. As of Monday, only 72% of Oklahoma’s available shots are actually reaching arms. That number is down from 79% just six weeks ago. 

Experts warn of another surge if Governors allow vaccination rates to stall

Last December, Governor Stitt’s administration came under fire for spending more than $2 million in CARES Act funds on tourism ads as hospitalizations soared. The administration has seemingly not invested similar amounts into campaigns promoting life-saving vaccinations.

News of the Biden Administration’s “use-it-or-lose-it” policy comes a day after Governor Stitt lifted the state’s emergency order. While cases and hospitalizations remain low, experts warn of future surges if  states fail to reach herd immunity through vaccinations.

On average, Oklahoma continues to see more than 250 new cases of COVID-19 every day. The virus has already claimed the lives of more than 8,000 Oklahomans statewide.

Nate Morris moved to the Tulsa area in 2012 and has committed himself to helping build a more equitable and just future for everyone who calls the city home. As a teacher, advocate, community organizer...