State health officials said during a press briefing last Thursday that although Alaska has seen a drop in positive COVID-19 infections, the state still has some work to do over the summer.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said the longer Alaskans climb the hill, the steeper it gets.
Zink emphasized that people who were eager to get vaccinated early came out in large numbers last winter, but now the state and nation are seeing a plateau in inoculation rates.
“That phase of this vaccination effort is over,” she said. “We are now looking at making sure that people have the information.”
Many of the people yet to get their shots are looking for convenience, the officials with the Department of Health and Social Services said.
Zink said just six months ago she didn’t think the state would have as much vaccine stock as it does now.
“We’re definitely seeing more supply than demand,” State Immunization Manager Matthew Bobo said last Thursday.
Zink presented data showing that Alaska is now at low risk in all categories: COVID-19 transmission rates, hospitalizations and test positivity.
Still, the officials said they hope to see more Alaskans choose to get their shots.
“These are not experimental vaccines at this point,” Zink said. “With over 304 million doses, we would expect any small safety signals to arise at this point and we are not seeing them.”
DHSS officials also emphasized the importance of getting children vaccinated as soon as possible.
“For everyone I think it’s a risk-benefit decision to get vaccinated,” Zink said.
She cited a study that showed that 12- to 17-year-olds are more likely to be seriously impacted by COVID-19 than influenza.
Out of 204 adolescent hospitalizations studied, nearly one-third of the kids were admitted to the intensive care unit and 5% were placed on mechanical ventilation. None of the kids died.
As the next academic year nears in the fall, State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said he suspects to see an uptick in positive cases.
As of now, he said, Alaska is about 10 percentage points below the national vaccination average.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to kind of catch up with the rest of the nation,” he said.
Coleman Cutchins, a clinical pharmacist with the state, said he hopes people plan ahead to get their kids vaccinated before school starts in the fall.
There is a three-week interval between Pfizer doses and a two-week period after the second shot to be considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Keeping this timeline in mind, Cutchins said the latest a kid could get the first dose and be fully vaccinated by the first day of school would be in the first week of July.
“I really think we need to be working towards increased vaccine rates for fall now, because fall will be here before we know it,” he said.
Where to get vaccinated
Free, walk-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics will be held from 3-7 p.m. every Thursday through June at the Boathouse Pavilion on the Homer Spit. The single-dose Janssen vaccine and the two-dose Pfizer vaccine will be offered.
As an incentive to get more Alaskans vaccinated for COVID-19, anyone getting the jab at the pop-up clinics will receive $40 in Homer Bucks, the local currency sponsored by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center that can be spent at area businesses. The incentive program will be available through June for anyone who receives a vaccine at weekly Thursday clinics on the Spit.
All participants also will be entered to win weekly drawings for $100 to $500 gift certificates at local businesses. People already vaccinated with one or two doses can show their vaccine cards or give the dates of their vaccine at the clinic to get entered in the drawing.
South Peninsula Hospital and the city of Homer offer the weekly Thursday pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics. Nurses also will be at the clinic to talk about the COVID-19 vaccines.
The Pfizer vaccine is now approved for children age 12 and older and all adults. Parental consent is required for minors. No identification is needed to get the vaccine.
The state, municipalities and local hospitals have been holding clinics this spring as part of its Sleeves Up for Summer campaign to increase the vaccination rate in Alaska.
As of Wednesday, 293,207 Alaskans age 12 and older are fully vaccinated, with 326,879 having received at least one dose.
As percentages, 48% of Alaskans 12 and older were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 54% had received at least one dose, according to information from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough is tied with the Fairbanks North Star Borough at second-lowest in terms in percentages of those fully vaccinated, with 42% compared to Juneau, the highest ranking, at 70%. In the borough, 45% have received at least one dose. Of peninsula seniors 65 and older, 63% were fully inoculated as of Wednesday and almost 65% have received at least one dose.
SPH continues to offer walk-in vaccines daily from noon-5 p.m. at 4201 Bartlett Street, and by appointment at www.sphosp.org. Free COVID-19 testing is offered at this site daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, talk to your doctor or call 235-0235 for additional information.
Reach reporter Camille Botello at firstname.lastname@example.org. Homer News editor and reporter Michael Armstrong contributed to this story. Reach him at email@example.com.