Bonita Banks, nurse manager for the Medication for Addiction Treatment program at Homer Medical Center, prepares to remove a dose of the Moderna vaccine from a vial Friday, Jan. 15, 2021 during a vaccination clinic for seniors put on by the hospital and the City of Homer at Christian Community Church in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Bonita Banks, nurse manager for the Medication for Addiction Treatment program at Homer Medical Center, prepares to remove a dose of the Moderna vaccine from a vial Friday, Jan. 15, 2021 during a vaccination clinic for seniors put on by the hospital and the City of Homer at Christian Community Church in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

State offers vaccines to next eligible group

Vaccine extended to teachers, those 50 and older with health risks or essential jobs, and more

Efforts to optimize the allocation of COVID-19 vaccines from the state continue in Homer, as South Peninsula Hospital and other community partners continue holding community clinics for eligible people to get the shot.

At the same time, the State of Alaska announced Wednesday that it is opening up the option for vaccination to the next tier of people. Phase 1b, Tier 2 includes K-12 teachers of any age, those aged 50 and older who have high-risk medical conditions or an essential job, those living in congregate settings like correctional facilities and other limited pandemic response staff, according to an Alaska Department of Health and Social Services press release.

The option for people in these categories to get the vaccine starts Thursday.

The education category includes not only teachers, but also support staff like custodians and those in food service and transportation. This category also applies to child care workers and their support staff, according to the press release, as well as Indigenous language and culture bearers.

People over 50 years old are eligible for the vaccine if they meet one of the two following criteria:

1) They have a high-risk medical condition like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, chronic kidney disease or cancer, among others.

2) They work in a frontline essential job where they work within 6 feet of others. According to the press release, this includes law enforcement, public safety, first responders, food and agriculture workers, utility workers and more.

People in congregate settings are those living in places like correctional facilities, acute psychiatric facilities, transitional living homes, substance misuse treatment facilities and homeless or domestic violence shelters, according to the press release.

For full definitions of the categories in Phase 1b, Tier 2, and the previous tiers, visit dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/COVID-19/VaccineAvailability.aspx.

One in seven Alaskans has now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to DHSS. More than 110,000 people in the state have gotten their first dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, while more than 45,600 have completed their vaccination series.

On the southern Kenai Peninsula, efforts to reach all the eligible people who want a vaccine continue, mainly through community vaccination clinics put on by South Peninsula Hospital, the City of Homer, Homer Public Health and other community partners as part of the city’s Unified Command team. Another clinic is coming up this Friday and Saturday at Christian Community Church, and a number of vaccine doses are still available to be claimed by appointment.

The hospital already had a follow-up vaccine clinic scheduled for this weekend in order to administer the second doses to seniors and health care workers who got their first shot during the first mass vaccine clinic in January. Hospital Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro said the hospital is making the remaining doses available for any eligible person to sign up for at this weekend’s clinic as well.

At last weekend’s clinic, a total of 655 vaccine doses were administered. Of those, 135 were second doses for those who had already gotten their first shot.

The hospital administered 520 doses of the Moderna vaccine to seniors over 65 years old. That’s out of the 600 doses the hospital received from the state, Ferraro said.

“So now we have some remaining doses available,” she said.

Appointments for those remaining doses can be made on the hospital’s website www.sphosp.org. Those who need assistance making an appointment can also call the city’s help line at 907-435-3188.

If there are still left over doses after this weekend’s clinic, Ferraro said the hospital will reach out to hospitalized patients who may want to receive the vaccine upon their discharge, and home health patients who would otherwise have trouble accessing the vaccine.

People who were already eligible are seniors aged 65 and older, and health care workers in the tiers the state has already authorized. The state recently expanded the definition of health care workers to include some people who provide in-home care for an elder or older family member.

“These may be paid, unpaid or contracted positions,” the expanded definition reads. See the full expanded definition of a health care worker on the hospital’s website.

Ferraro said the hospital is offering the leftover vaccine doses this weekend in part to try to catch any health care workers who thought they were ineligible before the state made this clarification.

“We just want to make sure that they have a chance, because once the state’s moved us on to the next tier, it’s just going to be high numbers a gain, just a lot of people trying to get it (the vaccine) again,” she said on Monday, before the state’s announcement of Phase 1b, Tier 2.

At last weekend’s clinic, Ferraro said in a Monday report to the Homer City Council that the hospital got reports of expected side effects — swelling and pain at the injection site, fever, etc. — but no known reports of adverse reactions.

Those running the clinic last weekend were also able to increase the number of people vaccinated in one hour from 40 to 60, Ferraro said. That means going forward, the clinics will be able to accommodate more people in one day, and may not have to stretch into a second day. This would conserve energy and time for the health care professionals and volunteers.

“The clinic staff definitely could keep up with that volume and that pace, and all of the workers could,” Ferraro told the council. “The issue was the parking lot wasn’t that interested in keeping up with that pace, so we are outgrowing our location a little.”

Ferraro said there’s a chance the clinics will move into Homer High School going forward.

The hospital itself has administered 1,600 first vaccines so far, Ferraro reported to the council. Other community partners have administered “at least 700, if not more,” she said.

“So we’re well over 2,000 of at least first doses,” Ferraro said.

For the hospital’s service area of about 14,000 people, that’s slightly higher than the one out of seven rate of vaccination at the state level, she said.

Current patients of SVT Health & Wellness who have not already been contacted about the vaccine may call 907-226-2228 to get put on a waiting list. The clinic also welcomes new patients — a medical visit is required in order to establish care through SVT Health & Wellness.

Vaccine appointments are also available for this week at the local Safeway Pharmacy. The store chain has partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Social Services to provide vaccines to customers. The company expect all of its pharmacies will carry the vaccine, according to its website. To confirm that you’re eligible and sign up for a vaccine through the Safeway Pharmacy, visit www.safeway.com/pharmacy/covid-19.html.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management has opened a volunteer call center to help those age 65 and older who are not able to navigate the online PrepMOD appointment registration process. The KPB Call Center will operate from 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday. The following phone numbers can be used to contact the Call Center: Central peninsula, 907-262-4636; Homer, 907-235-4636; Seward, 907-224-4636.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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