IHS expecting 68,000 COVID vaccine doses by year’s end

Photo caption: Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Michigan, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020. AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool

With shipments of the coronavirus vaccine beginning Sunday, Indian Health Services is preparing to start handing out doses.  

On Dec. 11, officials with Indian Health Services confirmed the agency will begin shipping out COVID-19 vaccine doses within 24 hours of the Food and Drug Administration formally issuing an emergency use authorization.  

“We expect deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine to begin as early as Monday (Dec. 14),” said Cmdr. Andrea Klimo, the Distribution and Allocation Team lead on IHS’ COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force. “We also expect doses of the Moderna vaccine before the end of the year, but do not have a timeline yet for it.”

For its initial phase, the agency is expecting about 46,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 22,400 doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer. The Oklahoma City Service Area, which along with all of Oklahoma also includes Kansas and part of Texas, is projected to receive 5,850 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 8,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine.  

Those first doses will go to the 44,300 health care employees at direct service, tribally-operated and urban Indian clinics and hospitals at 11 of IHS’ 12 areas, as well as residents at long-term care facilities who are not already accounted for by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Plans are still being developed to determine who will be next in line after the first phase.

“We anticipate Phase 1B to include essential workers, but we do not have confirmation on that yet,” Klimo said.  

The lone exception to IHS’ distribution plan is Alaska. The Department of Health and Human Services allowed tribes operating a clinic or hospital under a self-governance compact to choose between receiving vaccine doses through either IHS or the allotment provided to their state.

Rear Adm. Francis Frazier, the lead on IHS’ COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, said Alaska was the lone exception because all of the area’s tribally operated health care facilities opted to receive their vaccine allocations through the state health department.

Both IHS and the Oklahoma State Department of Health confirmed independently that all Oklahoma tribes that operate a health care facility under a self-governance agreement opted to receive their vaccine allotments through IHS.