Health care workers help distribute flu vaccines to thousands of Juneau residents at Thunder Mountain High School on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. Local health authorities said the drive-thru clinic was a practice run for an eventual mass distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Health care workers help distribute flu vaccines to thousands of Juneau residents at Thunder Mountain High School on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. Local health authorities said the drive-thru clinic was a practice run for an eventual mass distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Health officials want Alaskans ready for vaccine

FDA could approve vaccine Dec. 10

Guidelines for distribution of pharmaceutical company Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine will be released this week, said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer.

Those guidelines will then be used by state and local health authorities would begin to develop their own schedules.

At least one COVID-19 vaccine is close to arriving in Alaska according to Zink, who Monday told reporters there’ll be a lot of progress made this week toward developing guidelines for distributing the medicine. With the vaccine almost ready, state health officials now want to make Alaskans aware of what the vaccine is and how distribution will work.

“This week is an incredibly packed week in the vaccine world,” Zink said in a video news conference with members of the Department of Health and Social Services. “They are coming. It’s incredibly hopeful and it’s exciting.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is meeting Tuesday, Zink said, and from that meeting would come a set of priority guidelines for distributing Pfizer’s vaccine currently awaiting federal approval.

The guidelines from the CDC are not set in stone, Zink said, and are meant to provide information for local authorities in their own planning. Emergency Operations Center Planning Section Chief for the City and Borough of Juneau Robert Barr previously told the Empire the city will likely follow state guidelines on vaccine distribution.

In October, city and state health officials jointly organized a mass flu-vaccination effort meant to serve as a practice for the eventual distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine. That effort was able to inoculate more than 1,300 people over two days.

The plans being considered Tuesday are only for the vaccine being developed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, but other vaccines would require different guidance. Pzifer’s vaccine requires two doses and must be stored at extremely cold temperatures, said Tessa Walker-Linderman of the DHSS’ COVID-19 task force. Walker Linderman added Pfizer’s vaccine could be stored for up to 20 days using dry ice and five days in a medical freezer. Other vaccines, like the one recently submitted by another large pharmaceutical company, Moderna, will have different requirements and therefore have different guidance, she said.

Health officials have said medical workers and those most vulnerable to COVID-19 will be among the first scheduled to receive a vaccine, but the general public won’t be getting their shots until spring. Pfizer’s vaccine is currently awaiting an Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration which will allow the drug to be delivered on an accelerated timeline. The FDA is meeting Dec. 10 to review Pfizer’s vaccine and Dec. 21 to review Moderna’s.

Vaccine shipments are set to begin within 24-hours of FDA approval, the Associated Press reported Monday. Alaska’s first shipment is expected to include fewer than 5,000 doses, Walker Linderman said, followed larger shipments of 10,000 and then 20,000 doses.

Among anticipated distribution challenges is getting people to take the vaccine, Zink said. Health officials have been hearing concerns from the public about the vaccine and the accelerated timeline on which it’s been developed. It is true the vaccine had been developed exceptionally quickly, Zink said, but she stressed the thoroughness with which the drug was made.

“We’re building on experience from previous work,” Zink said. “Like how your phone gets faster, (Pfizer) are working on past research.”

Zink said she had heard concerns the vaccine would change a person’s DNA, but said confidently the medicine doesn’t affect DNA and wasn’t capable of changing it.

Results from Pfizer’s vaccine are promising, Zink said, but it’s effectiveness will depend on how many Alaskans receive it.

“The more people that we have that cannot get the disease and can’t give it to others, the better,” she said. “This virus can only replicate if it has a human body in which to live.”

Zink said she was hearing some hesitation from some health care providers who would like more data, but said she is confident enough to receive the vaccine and would recommend it to family and friends.

There are currently no discussions about a vaccine mandate at the state level, Zink said, and under an EUA a mandate could not be issued until the drug has full approval from the FDA. Both Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines require two doses, but other single-dose vaccines in development could make getting the vaccine easier in the future, Zink said.

The Alaska Vaccine Assessment Program already has a network of roughly 360 medical provider partners it has worked with for years, Walker Linderman said, and the vaccine task force is working with pharmacies and doctors offices across the state to increase distribution.

“We really want the public to have a good understanding of the pandemic,” she said. “We want people to have the information they need to make a decision about the vaccine.”

Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

More in News

An area set up to administer doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is seen on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion 
An area set up to administer doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is seen on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020 in Soldotna, Alaska.
Large vaccine clinics to happen later this month

Clinics are being offered by Soldotna Professional Pharmacy and Nikiski Fire/OEM

Homer’s Bergen Knutson (left) and Toby Nevak (right) try to fend off Dimond’s Kaden Daniels during a Friday, Feb. 14, 2020 game at the 2020 ASAA First National Cup Division I Hockey State Championship at the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center in Wasilla, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Middle, high school sports resume

Middle and high school sport programs started back up this week as… Continue reading

Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Seawatch: Tribe wins lawsuit in herring roe subsistence claim

Sitka Tribe of Alaska claimed state wasn’t providing “reasonable opportunity” in herring roe harvest.

Sanitization equipment is seen inside of a classroom at Kenai Middle School on Friday, Jan. 8 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
As in-person learning resumes, parents ask for more changes

Many called for allowing students in all grades to resume in-person learning five days a week or for eliminating mask requirements for student athletes while active.

Homer News file photo
Homer High School.
School announcements

School district risk level update and upcoming events

The Homer office of the Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles. (Courtesy photo Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles)
Cuts in governor’s budget would close DMV office in Homer

Policy analyst: DMV costs more to operate than it brings in

Homer City Hall. (Homer News file photo)
City to pay assessment fees on parcel eyed by moose habitat group

The Homer City Council delved into issues of land conservation at its… Continue reading

Most Read