Family practice physician Christina Tuomi, D.O., (right) gets Homer’s first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine from Emergency Department nurse Steve Hughes (left) on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020 at South Peninsula Hospital in Homer, Alaska. Tuomi has been the hospital’s medical lead throughout the pandemic. (Photo courtesy Derotha Ferraro/South Peninsula Hospital)

Family practice physician Christina Tuomi, D.O., (right) gets Homer’s first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine from Emergency Department nurse Steve Hughes (left) on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020 at South Peninsula Hospital in Homer, Alaska. Tuomi has been the hospital’s medical lead throughout the pandemic. (Photo courtesy Derotha Ferraro/South Peninsula Hospital)

Almost 2,900 seniors on southern Kenai Peninsula can start getting vaccine soon

State opens up vaccine opportunity early for Alaskans 65 and older.

Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that vaccine availability and times and dates of clinics for the southern Kenai Peninsula have not yet been determined.

Alaskans age 65 and older can make appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine starting at noon Wednesday, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced in a press release on Monday.

The actual vaccine appointments may be available at some Alaska locations starting as soon as next Monday, Jan. 11, but not yet on the southern Kenai Peninsula.

DHSS encourages people to make appointments by visiting the COVID-19 vaccination website at covidvax.alaska.gov. That link also has a questionnaire to review eligibility criteria that people should fill out first before making appointments.

Under the state’s vaccine allocation plan, seniors 65 and older are in the Phase 1b, Tier 1 category. Currently, vaccines are being offered to those in the Phase 1a, Tiers 1 to 3, which are the categories of long-term care residents, long-term care staff, hospital-based frontline health care workers, frontline emergency medical service and fire service workers who could be exposed to COVID-19 patients, and other health care workers who have direct contact with patient or infectious materials from patients, as well as essential health care workers.

Vaccinations for Alaskans 65 and older were scheduled to start in later January. However, after assessing supplies, the Alaska COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force moved the timeline forward, according to the press release.

In a virtual press conference on Monday, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink explained how the state plans rolling out vaccines to various groups. She said health planners look at vaccine supplies, how much of an allocation the state gets over time, what clinics are set up to give the vaccine, and other factors.

“Think of it as a relay race – keep moving forward,” she said. “… The moment we can open up to the next group, we’re going to open up and move.”

Some people in tiers that had not opened up for appointments had already made appointments. In the press release, DHSS said Alaskans ages 65 and older who have already made appointments do not need to cancel those appointments.

In Homer, South Peninsula Hospital will be offering vaccine clinics. SVT Health & Wellness Center also will be giving vaccinations to its patients. Exact plans for the SPH clinics are still in the works, with details to come soon, said Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro. She said health officials have been dusting off a mass-vaccine plan that had been set up in anticipation of giving vaccines in the event of a pandemic.

“We had already started doing that,” Ferraro said. “… It just wasn’t clear we would be activating it so fast.”

According to the hospital’s 2020 Community Health Needs Assessment, there are almost 2,900 seniors age 65 and older on the southern Kenai Peninsula, Ferraro said.

“That’s a lot of vaccination we’ve got to roll through,” she said.

In comparison, South Peninsula Hospital did a three-day influenza vaccine clinic in the fall and SVT did a half-day clinic, administering about 500 vaccines, Ferraro said.

The next vaccine category after seniors 65 and older is Phase 1b, Tier 2. That category includes frontline essential workers ages 50 and older, including teachers; first responders; food and agriculture workers; grocery story workers; public transit workers; postal carriers; utility, water and wastewater workers in rural communities; and people living in congregate settings such as psychiatric facilities, group homes, homeless and domestic violence shelters, substance abuse residential facilities, and prisons.

Alaskans aged 55-64 are in the category after that: Phase 1b, Tier 3. That category also includes people in unserved communities, defined as communities in which more than 45% of the homes do not have piped, septic tank or covered haul wastewater systems. Tier 3 also includes those in the Tier 2 category but who are ages 16 to 50.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

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