As COVID-19 vaccinations continue to roll out across Alaska, local seniors were able to sign up for their own inoculations against the novel coronavirus earlier this week. Community members age 65 and older will get vaccinated this weekend, with Homer leading other Kenai Peninsula communities in the vaccine clinic effort.
The Alaska COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force recently opened up vaccinations to Alaskans 65 and older. South Peninsula Hospital opened appointment scheduling for 700 doses of the Moderna vaccine on Monday. The online appointments filled up in just eight minutes, said hospital Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro.
South Peninsula Hospital, in conjunction with the city’s incident command team, will offer this mass round of vaccinations in a two-day clinic coming up this Friday and Saturday at the Christian Community Church.
In a report to the Homer City Council at its Monday meeting from the city’s Unified Command team, Ferraro said the hospital is slated to receive 600 doses of the Moderna vaccine from the state. However, it was able to offer 700 appointments because it had some doses left over from the round of vaccinating front-line health care workers, and because there are usually a few doses left over in each vial of the vaccine.
“Because we received a very specific amount (of the vaccine) we wanted to do it by appointment only,” Ferraro explained. “We did not want to deal with people waiting in long lines, and with the weather and roads and everything else.”
Of the 700 appointments, 636 of them were able to be made online, while 64 of them were reserved for people who needed to make appointments via telephone. All appointments have been filled as has a wait list.
After this first vaccine clinic, the process will need to be repeated 28 days later for all those people to get their second dose, explained Homer Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mark Kirko, who leads the city’s Unified Command.
“This whole planning phase for this — it seemed like it was overnight. It happened that quickly,” Kirko said of the vaccine rollout.
There will be a “dry run” of the vaccine clinic on Thursday, and vaccinations will begin at 9 a.m. Friday. The city’s Public Works Department will help with handling parking and traffic flow, Kirko said. Members of Homer’s fire department will also aid in giving vaccinations and monitoring recipients afterward for any side effects, he said
Seniors are able to get the vaccine as the Phase 1b, Tier 1 group established by the Alaska COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force. Vaccine priority in the state was given to hospital workers whose jobs expose them to COVID-19, and other front-line health care workers.
South Peninsula Hospital recently finished up a vaccine clinic for people in the Phase 1a, Tiers 1, 2 and 3, Ferraro said. This past weekend the hospital vaccinated an additional 57 employees and 83 community health care workers. That brings the total of health care workers vaccinated in Homer to 354, including both community workers and hospital employees, Ferraro said.
“So our numbers are getting up there,” Ferraro said. “After this coming weekend we will be over 1,000 (people vaccinated) … at least with their first dose. So that’s pretty exciting.”
There are about 14,000 people on the southern Kenai Peninsula.
Additionally, Ferraro reported that all residents of the hospital’s Long Term Care wing have gotten their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
There are more people in the Homer area that want the vaccine than vaccines available. Ferraro said 1,000 people have requested to be notified when more of the vaccine is available.
“I really appreciate people’s patience and diligence to be willing to put themselves back on lists again,” she said.
Kirko said the Homer area’s vaccination effort is moving forward ahead of other communities on the peninsula.
“As I reached out to the borough earlier today, nobody else is even at this point yet,” he said. “So we are leading the charge on this and I think that’s something to be proud of also.”
Kirko said there will be a review or analysis after this first vaccine clinic to work out what goes well and what needs to be improved for next time.
Homer Public Health Nurse Lorne Carroll, another member of the Unified Command, also weighed in on Homer’s progress in moving forward with vaccines.
“COVID vaccine distribution is an incredibly complex process,” he said. “Now that we’re past the new year and we’re looking at closing our first year of COVID, you know it’s just highlighted to me over and over again: these incredible partners that we’re working with are doing a couple of amazing things.”
Those working on battling COVID-19 in the community are processing new information quickly, Carroll said, and are offering a continued safe standard of care throughout the pandemic.
SVT Health & Wellness is also continuing its own rollout of COVID-19 vaccines to its health care workers and to its patients. The health clinics in Seldovia, Anchor Point and Homer are owned and operated by Seldovia Village Tribe. Currently, SVT Health & Wellness is in the process of completing vaccinations for health care workers in the Phase 1a, Tiers 1-2 groups. Starting Tuesday, the health provider will begin offering vaccines to the Tier 3 group, which are also health care workers, according to its website
Also starting Tuesday, SVT Health & Wellness was able to begin administering doses for those under Phase 1b, Tier 1, patients who are aged 65 years and up, according to Laurel Hilts, director of marketing and public relations for the tribe.
SVT Health & Wellness patients who are aged 65 or older can call 907-226-2228 to be put on a list for the vaccine, and will be contacted to make an appointment when it becomes available.
“We encourage our patients to consult with their healthcare provider with questions about the vaccine or any side effects they may experience,” SVT Health & Wellness states on its website.
Elsewhere on the peninsula, vaccine clinics are planned for Jan. 23 in Soldotna, and on Jan. 30 in Cooper Landing and Nikiski.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.