OK university students, teachers eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

All Oklahomans under Phase 3 of the state’s vaccine distribution plan will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting March 9, the Oklahoma State Department of Health said Monday.

According to the plan, Phase 3 is made up of an estimated 2.5 million Oklahomans, including teachers, students aged 18 or older, residents and administrative staff in education settings outside of pre K-12. College and university students, teachers and staff are in this group.

OSDH Deputy Commissioner of Health Keith Reed said the eligibility expansion is “a big step” for Oklahoma’s fight against the pandemic.

“We consider ourselves to really kind of race against the clock a bit, too,” Reed said, in a press conference Monday. “That’s kind of been our strategy all along: vaccinate people quickly.

“Let’s build up resistance as a state to COVID as quickly as possible, and that’s the fastest way to get [the pandemic] behind us.”

International students and out-of-state students will also be able to receive the vaccine for free as long as they are residing in Oklahoma to attend school, Reed said.

Adrienne Nobles, the University of Central’s Oklahoma’s vice president for communications and public affairs, said the university was “excited” for more members of the UCO community to get the vaccine.

“While the opening of Phase 3 today was unexpected, we absolutely are supportive of this and encourage every UCO student, faculty member and staff member to go get the COVID-19 vaccine,” Nobles said.

Nobles also said that UCO and Passport Health are  discussing hosting on-campus vaccine clinics more often and providing larger spaces for the clinics to accommodate the expanded eligible population. As future clinics are announced, members of the UCO community will receive alerts via UCO email.

The university is asking students, faculty and staff who have received a COVID-19 vaccine to self-report their vaccination through a voluntary survey. The data collected from the survey will be available on the UCO COVID-19 dashboard.

Aside from the expanded education group, critical infrastructure personnel will also be able to receive the vaccine under Phase 3. This group, also known as “essential business/industry personnel,” includes employees working under sectors like communications, manufacturing and utilities. The full list of eligible sectors is specified in Governor Kevin Stitt’s third executive order.

The Phase 3 expansion announcement came shortly after the OSDH initially said Friday they expected to open up vaccine eligibility for Phase 3 groups in early April.

“We want to have a very aggressive vaccination program up till summer,” said Lance Frye, OSDH commissioner of health, Monday. “We’re just going to keep pushing forward with this and open up as many appointments as we can … because we have a big goal of getting everybody, if we can, by the summer.”

Reed said he hopes to distribute three million doses by Memorial Day.

The vaccine is available at no cost to Oklahomans in Phase 1, 2 and 3. The OSDH is encouraging all Oklahomans to register for a vaccine appointment as soon as it is available.

Oklahomans can register for an appointment or to get notified for when they become eligible through the state’s vaccine scheduler portal. Starting today, the portal will also be available in Spanish.

The option is available through a dropdown menu at the top right corner of the portal. For those who choose Spanish as their preferred language, OSDH says all subsequent email communication will also be in Spanish.

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