‘A gigantic milestone’: Alaska becomes 1st state to open vaccines to everyone

The state announced the change Tuesday

Alaska on Tuesday became the first state to offer COVID-19 vaccines to anyone, 16 and older, who wants one.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink announced the eligibility expansion during a press conference on Tuesday evening.

The announcement came almost a week after the state significantly expanded eligibility criteria for people wanting to be vaccinated and as thousands of vaccination appointments sat unfilled statewide. On the central peninsula alone, 439 appointments across all scheduled clinics were available as of 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday, almost two hours after state officials announced that anyone over 16 was eligible. That includes people who live and work in Alaska.

Alaska has consistently led the nation in vaccine rollout, with state data showing that 23.6% of the state’s population has received at least one dose of their vaccine and about 16.4% has received both. That is compared to the nationwide percentage of people who have received at least one dose, which NPR’s COVID vaccine tracker estimates is about 18.1%.

Dunleavy and Zink emphasized during Monday’s press conference that as the first state to make the vaccine available to everyone, Alaska is closer to coming out of the pandemic.

“This has been a long pandemic,” Zink said. “This is our opportunity to move forward.”

During the same conference, however, Dunleavy said that he respects people who do not want to be vaccinated and that he will be signing up to be vaccinated because he doesn’t want to repeat the “inconvenience” of having COVID-19. Dunleavy’s office announced at the end of February that Dunleavy had tested positive after being exposed and was experiencing mild symptoms.

The state’s announcement also came days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new guidance for people who are fully vaccinated. People who are fully vaccinated, they said, can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing. They can also visit with low-risk unvaccinated people from a single household indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing. They can also refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic.

As of Tuesday, more than 171,000 Alaskans had received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine and more than 119,000 had already received both. The state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Monitoring Dashboard said that as of Tuesday, 11,760 of 47,102 borough residents — about 25% — who are 16 and older had received at least one dose. About 54.6% of people 65 or older in the Kenai Peninsula Borough had received at least one dose as of Tuesday.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.