Officials with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services last Thursday emphasized the importance of getting all required COVID-19 vaccines doses, especially now as the delta variant of the coronavirus has made its way to the state.
“That two-dose vaccine is critically important against the delta variant,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said during Thursday’s press briefing. “We really want to make sure that people get both doses of the mRNA vaccine to protect themselves.”
The delta variant, first detected in India, has been classified as a “variant of concern” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A variant of concern is one for which there is evidence of increased transmissibility, more severe disease, significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures, according to the CDC.
In Alaska, there have been a total of 13 delta cases detected, with nine of them spotted in the last week.
Zink said most health officials in the U.S. — 96% — have decided to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I think there’s pretty widespread consensus around the scientific and medical community that these vaccines are incredibly safe and incredibly efficacious,” she said.
Dr. Louisa Castrodale — an epidemiologist with the state — said Alaska will likely continue to see COVID cases, but the effects could be less dire with the more people who get vaccinated.
“If we could predict where there was going to be an outbreak or a little flare that would be fantastic, but we can’t,” she said. “Overall where there’s been high uptake of vaccine, we expect less outbreak and less situations in those areas. … But we do know as we’re going through the — hopefully — deceleration of this pandemic, that we are going to see these little events.”
Castrodale said there will likely still be community outbreaks.
“The likelihood that we would ever eradicate this disease is slim and so we’re going to always see a little bit of activity with COVID and sort of managing that the best we can is the goal,” she said.
Dr. Liz Ohlsen, a staff physician with state public health, said according to information from the U.K., the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has proved effective against the delta variant, and they expect the Moderna shot to provide similar protection since the two vaccines themselves are similar.
“The Pfizer two-shot regimen is very highly efficacious against hospitalization and death from any of the variants,” Ohlsen said.
With only one dose of the Pfizer shot, studies show decreased protection against variants.
“States around the country are reporting that people are getting more motivated to get their second dose — if they missed it — now with the data that two doses are much better than one, specifically against this variant,” State Clinical Pharmacist Dr. Coleman Cutchins said. “I think the more we can make people aware of that data, the better.”
Immunization Program Manager Matthew Bobo said that just under 5% of people in Alaska are overdue for their second mRNA dose. That’s approximately 16,000 individuals.
People who have already caught COVID-19 and have antibodies for the disease are still encouraged to get vaccinated, Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz said on Thursday.
“They’re produced to provide better and longer protection, so even if you have been infected with the COVID virus we’re still recommending that you do get vaccinated,” she said.
Reach reporter Camille Botello at firstname.lastname@example.org.