Homer has achieved a fully vaccinated rate of 74.1%, according to new data released this week by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. That number includes residents of both the city of Homer and Diamond Ridge — those with a mailing address of “Homer 99603” — according to DHSS spokesperson Clinton Bennett.
Bennett explained that DHSS uses Census Designated Places to identify regions, but that addresses reported are most likely people’s mailing or physical address.
“In our data it appeared as if no one in Diamond Ridge was vaccinated, and that was because Diamond Ridge and Homer are in the same postal area,” he wrote.
Previously, DHSS reported vaccination rates by borough or larger region. The new table, found in the Summary Tables section of the COVID-19 dashboard, includes information by community.
Of a population of 6,888 people, the 2020 estimate for the Homer-Diamond Ridge 99603 postal area, 5,444 or 79.3% have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 and 5,086 or 74.1% have received two doses. The total population number includes people of all ages, and not just those 12 and older eligible to receive the vaccine. According to 2020 estimates, the total population of the southern Kenai Peninsula is 14,969 people.
In the Anchor Point Census Designated Place, 38.7% have received one dose and 36.1% have received two doses. In the Kenai and Nikiski area, 38.5% have received one dose and 35.6% have received two doses. In the Seward area, 46.5% have received one dose and 43.4% have received two doses. In the Sterling CDP, 18.6% have received one dose and 17.4% have received two doses. In the Fritz Creek CDP, population 2,246, 3.3% or 74 people have received at least one dose and 3.1% or 70 have received two doses. As with the Homer area, the data table uses “area” for some regions.
Regions of less than 1,000 people are not included. Bud Sexton, operations manager for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management, said in discussions with DHSS officials, smaller communities will get vaccination numbers reported collectively as “Kenai Peninsula Borough, other-south” and “Kenai Peninsula Borough, other-north,” the system used to report positive COVID-19 cases for those regions. Because of privacy reasons, communities of less than 1,000 like the Fox River CDP are not reported.
In a follow-up email to Bennett, he did not identify the areas included in the regions identified as “Kenai and Nikiski area,” “Soldotna area” and “Seward area.”
Those low numbers for the Fritz Creek CDP show a data-crunching issue. As a footnote to the table notes, “Vaccination rate estimates may be higher or lower than expected relative to population depending on the accuracy of reported residency information. … Interpret estimates with caution. Data are preliminary and subject to change.”
“The area is based on a person’s place of residence as reported to us by the applicant per the address that they provide,” Bennett wrote in an email. “…Vaccination counts for areas like Fritz Creek may be undercounted (and conversely Homer rates may be inflated) due to similar issues.”
Some vaccine recipients might report a Post Office Box mailing address for a nearby community. That can lead to vaccination rates higher than expected or even rates that exceed 100%, as happens for Kodiak.
“I think there is a challenge,” Sexton said. “What is the best way to make sure all those numbers are reported?”
Unlike other COVID-19 information, vaccination rates by smaller community are reported weekly. Bennett said how the information is interpreted will likely change.
“We refine things as we get more input and can improve the quality of the data, so please note that this data is preliminary and always subject to change,” he wrote in an email.
For statewide and borough vaccination rates, as of Tuesday, 298,782 Alaskans age 12 and older are fully vaccinated, with 330,803 having received at least one dose.
As percentages, 49% of Alaskans age 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 continues to rank third-lowest in percentages of those fully vaccinated, with 42% compared to Juneau at 71%. In the borough, 42% or 22,490 have received at least one dose.
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.
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 Michael Armstrong at email@example.com.