Alaskans age 65 and older were able to start making appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday after the Alaska COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force moved the timeline forward, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced in a press release.
In Homer, eligible seniors in the Phase 1b, Tier 1 category can start making appointments at noon Monday, Jan. 11, for vaccines at South Peninsula Hospital. In an email on Saturday, Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro said the hospital expects to get 600 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for free clinics scheduled next Friday and Saturday, Jan. 15 and 16. Visit www.sphosp.org for more information and to sign up. Appointments are required. People eligible in current Phase 1a categories also can sign up.
DHSS encourages people to get information on 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 seeking appointments as well as information on other tiers that will become eligible eventually.
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 later in January. However, after assessing supplies, the 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 and SVT Health & Wellness Center will be offering vaccines. Ferraro 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.”
The hospital plan is for a mass vaccine dispensing clinic. Ferraro said state health officials are telling clinics in outlying areas they will most likely get the Moderna vaccine. That vaccine can stay in a freezer for six months and in a refrigerator for 30 days.
Patients with SVT Health & Wellness can call 907-226-2228 to be put on a list to schedule appointments. New patients can also call that number to become a patient with the clinic. Seldovia Village Tribe Marketing Director Laurel Hilts said she does not have a firm time for when vaccinations will be available, but probably later this month.
“Unlike the flu shot, this is not a public health dispensary to everybody,” Hilts said. “This is health care providers administering to patients.”
According to the hospital’s 2020 Community Health Needs Assessment, there are almost 2,900 seniors aged 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 total, Ferraro said.
Allocations are for both vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, given 28 days apart. That’s one of the challenges in setting up clinics, Ferraro said. The same system used for the first dose should be used for the second dose. Thus, if there were a mass vaccine clinic for the first dose, a similar sized clinic would need to be held for the second dose. Allocations come with all the swabs, syringes, gloves and masks needed.
Clinics also have to follow COVID-19 safety practices like social distancing in waiting rooms. Patients also will be monitored for 15 to 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine.
Unlike “first-come, first-served” clinics in the Lower 48, southern peninsula vaccinations will be by appointment, Ferraro said.
“We have a community that’s pretty receptive to that,” she said. “The Health Fair, for years we’ve always done that by appointment. I think that will be a pretty easy thing to roll out.”
SPH started administering vaccines on Dec. 17 to nurses, doctors and other staff who could have direct contact with COVID-19 patients. That group, the Phase 1a, Tier 1, category, will get their second doses soon. About 215 health care workers got their vaccines in that first batch, Ferraro said. Because of the holidays, some eligible in those and other tiers haven’t received vaccines. Ferraro said she didn’t know whether any staff has refused the vaccine. For the in-house hospital clinics, vaccines were not offered by invitation — people just signed up for it.
People with positive COVID-19 tests, quarantining because of exposure to infected people or waiting for test results, can’t get vaccines. In the first round, some health care workers fell into that category.
“The great news is with this round, we had nobody out with COVID-19 related reasons,” 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.
Reach Michael Armstrong at email@example.com.