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A Union Public Schools employee gets a COVID-19 vaccine shot from a Tulsa Health Department nurse. 

Oklahoma Caring Van Program Supports COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts

For years, the Tulsa Health Department has vaccinated thousands of local students in partnership with the Caring Foundation of Oklahoma and its Caring Van program.

As a result of the pandemic, the department extended that relationship to inoculate eligible public school teachers and staff such as bus drivers, custodians and secretaries at least age 65 against COVID-19. Caring Vans supported by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma are stopping at Tulsa County schools to vaccinate eligible adults.

The Caring Van program helps the department bring vaccinations to people who may not otherwise get inoculated, says Ellen Niemitalo, the department’s clinical services manager. The Caring Van is being used to transport vaccine doses to school employees.

“We want to provide protection to people,” Niemitalo says. “The Caring Van was just a really logical partnership to get the vaccine administered in the school district.”

In Oklahoma, nearly 315,000 residents have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. Inoculations mostly had been limited to health care providers and support staff, first responders and nursing home residents. The state recently began offering vaccinations to people age 65 and older. Hundreds of employees working in local schools meet that eligibility requirement, Niemitalo says.

The department currently is the Caring Van program’s only partner administering the COVID-19 vaccine. Caring Foundation manager Amy Pulliam hopes more vans will be deployed to assist partners as more Oklahomans become eligible for vaccinations.

Learn more from the Oklahoma State Department of Health about the vaccine rollout. 

Get information from BCBSOK about COVID-19 and related coverage. 

“The distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is a natural extension of this important service because this initiative furthers our mission of providing Oklahomans access to preventive health services,” she says. “Our four metro vans, two in Tulsa and two in Oklahoma City, have had a 22-year focus on providing regular vaccines to children year-round and providing influenza vaccines to children and adults during flu season.”

The vans bring health care service to people when and where they need them, Pulliam says.

“By providing our unique mobile clinic model to the Tulsa community, we are removing the barriers of cost, transportation and restrictive medical clinic hours and keeping Oklahomans healthy,” she says.

Besides helping immunize residents, partners, including the Caring Foundation and Caring Vans, routinely assist communities in times of crisis like natural disasters, Niemitalo says.

“The Caring Foundation and the Caring Van program have been fabulous partners,” she says. “They help us in public health fulfill our mission to help people and to improve the health and well-being of all Tulsa County residents.”

A Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association