The availability of COVID-19 vaccines is increasing locally as the State of Alaska opens up the option to get one to more and more people.
On Tuesday, the state announced that every person age 16 and older is now able to get the vaccine. In the Homer area, providers continue to offer appointments for doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, while the first Janssen vaccines are on their way.
In a regular report to the Homer City Council at its Monday meeting, South Peninsula Hospital Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro said the Homer Unified Command team has administered more than 2,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine so far, in a combination of mass vaccine clinics and in-house inoculations for health care staff. Of those, 1,600 people have completed their vaccination series, while about 450 have been first doses.
Ferraro said doses of the Janssen vaccine from Johnson & Johnson should be arriving in about two weeks. The hospital expects about 50 doses of it, she said.
The Unified Command recently began holding its mass clinics, called points of dispensing, in the Homer High School Commons. Ferraro told the council this has been working well and that the area allows for plenty of space between vaccination stations.
The next mass clinic at the high school is scheduled for this Friday, where 530 first doses and 97 second doses will be administered. As of Monday when she gave her presentation, Ferraro said there were still about 50 appointments available for this event.
Friday’s clinic will be followed by another one on Friday, March 19, where there will be about 270 second doses available, as well as the 50 anticipated first doses of the Janssen vaccine. Then, the Unified Command will follow that up with a clinic at the high school on April 10, which will specifically be for people getting their second dose.
The hospital also offered individual appointments for 300 doses at its testing/vaccination site on Bartlett Street on March 9, 10 11, 14, 16 and 17. These appointments are all full.
The hospital has requested 2,000 vaccine doses for its April allotment from the state, Ferraro said.
During the Unified Command update on Monday, council members Heath Smith and Donna Aderhold asked the team members for more information about the three vaccines now available, and how people should go about deciding which one is right for them.
Smith asked about whether there are things certain demographics may want to take into consideration when deciding which vaccine to get.
“I really appreciate how you’re focusing on what we call in our lingo, health equity, and how thinking about how race and things like historical trauma and intergenerational trauma can impact the ability for a vaccine to work or not,” said Homer Public Health Nurse Lorne Carroll. “… Kind of the bottom line here is we’re still learning as we go, and we won’t know those things like if one vaccine works better on one particular population versus the next — we just won’t know those ‘till we know them. But it certainly has happened in the past.”
Aderhold asked for clarification on the differences between the three vaccines.
Jenny Carroll, special projects and communications coordinator for the city, explained that there are differences in how the vaccines were made, and even some differences in how they work.
“But as far as efficacy — that data is still coming in —but the main point to take away from this is that the vaccines were developed at different times, and their trials were carried out in different environments,” she said.
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccine trials were carried out when not many variant strains the virus were present, Jenny Carroll said, as opposed to the Janssen vaccine, for which the trials were performed in the midst of more variant strains.
“So you can’t compare them apples to apples,” she said.
Further studies are now being conducted to see how the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines hold up against variant strains, she said.
“One key point is, another piece of the bottom line is, if vaccine is right for you and it’s available, you should get it regardless of which one is available,” Lorne Carroll said.
The CDC has also updated a few of its recommendations regarding COVID-19 and the vaccines. As Lorne Carroll explained Monday, one of them is that people who have been fully vaccinated, and waited the required two weeks post-vaccination, can now visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without masks or social distancing. Fully vaccinated people can also socialize with up to one family unit that has not yet been vaccinated, without masking or distancing. If any more people are added to that, though, Lorne Carroll said maskless socialization is not recommended.
Additionally, fully vaccinated people no longer need to quarantine after having been around another person with COVID-19, unless the vaccinated person develops symptoms.
“One thing that we’re kind of really enjoying is that the vaccines for COVID-19 are highly effective in preventing symptomatic disease and severe disease,” Lorne Carroll said. “But there’s a growing body of evidence that suggests that fully vaccinated folks are potentially less able to transmit the vaccine.”
Vaccines at a glance
Nearly 24% of all Alaskans have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the state’s vaccine monitoring hub. More than 16% of Alaska residents have been fully vaccinated. That equates to a total of more than 290,600 individual doses having been administered in the state.
Alaska continues to have one of the highest rates of vaccination in the country, according to the New York Times, the only other state with a higher rate being New Mexico.
“So if this is a race, we’re doing pretty good,” Carroll said during the Unified Command report.
On the southern Kenai Peninsula, Carroll reported that roughly 13-16% of people have been vaccinated.
In Alaska, all people age 16 and older are eligible for the vaccine, as of Tuesday. The Moderna vaccine and Janssen vaccine from Johnson & Johnson are authorized for people 18 or older. The Pfizer vaccine is authorized for people age 16 and older.
To see all the state’s options for health care providers offering the vaccine, or to find a specific provider, visit the state’s website at dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/COVID-19/Vaccineappointments.aspx. Check provider websites frequently as appointments may open up due to cancellations or new allocations.
Where can you get the vaccine locally?
South Peninsula Hospital will hold its next open mass vaccine clinic in conjunction with the city’s Unified Command team on Friday, March 12 at Homer High School. The hospital is offering more than 500 doses at the clinic, and there are still some appointments available. You can sign up for the clinic at the hospital’s website, www.sphosp.org. Those without internet or who need assistance can call 907-435-3188.
Vaccines are not yet available through the hospital’s Homer Medical Center or South Peninsula Family Care Clinic. Anyone who has had their first dose of the vaccine does not need to call to schedule a second one. Their follow up dose was scheduled the day they got their first one.
The Safeway Pharmacy is offering vaccine appointments as doses are available. The store chain has partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Social Services to provide vaccines to customers. To sign up for a vaccine through the Safeway Pharmacy, visit www.safeway.com/pharmacy/covid-19.html.
Ulmer’s Drug & Hardware got an allocation of 100 doses from the state for the month of March. The pharmacy has two more days next week for which appointments can be made to get a first dose of the Moderna vaccine: Monday, March 15 and Tuesday, March 16. Those interested can make an appointment on the store’s website, ulmersdrugandhardware.com, or by calling the pharmacy for assistance at 907-235-8594. The Moderna vaccine is being offered for people 18 and older.
SVT Health & Wellness continues to offer vaccines to its patients as it receives allocations from the state. Patients can call 907-226-2228 to be put on a list to receive the vaccine. The health care provider is owned and operated by the Seldovia Village Tribe, but its clinics in Seldovia, Homer and Anchor Point serve the communities at large. The clinics welcome new patients; a medical visit is required to establish care through SVT Health & Wellness.
Kachemak Medical Group is offering the COVID-19 vaccine to people in the community, as it receives it allocations from the state. You do not have to be a current patient to receive it. To sign up for the vaccine, call Kachemak Medical Group at 907-235-7000 to be put on their list. As vaccine doses are received, the provider will call people and offer them appointments in the order they signed up. If the provider cannot reach a person on the list, they will go to the next name, but the person will remain on the list for a vaccine.
NTC Community Clinic in Ninilchik is offering the vaccine to its patients and to Ninilchik residents. As a tribally operated health care provider, the clinic gets part of its vaccine allocation from the state and part from the Indian Health Service. Ninilchik community members can call 907-567-3970 to sign up for the vaccine, and the clinic will notify them when it is available.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.