Two weeks after the first COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Alaska, more than 12,000 doses from two companies have already been administered. As of Dec. 27, 12,202 total COVID-19 vaccinations had been given in Alaska, including 11,629 Pfizer vaccinations and 573 Moderna vaccinations. During a Monday press briefing, DHSS officials said that those numbers may be even higher due to delays in reporting. The numbers reported by the state reflect those doses that have both been administered to individuals and that have then been reported to the state.
Last week, DHSS debuted the state’s COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, which allows users to stay up to date on how many of each vaccine has been administered in the state, among other things. From Pfizer, the state received 35,100 initial doses. From Moderna, the state received 26,800 initial doses. Through both allocations, the state has already received enough doses to vaccinate 61,900 people and is expecting to receive more in January. However, the road to vaccination has not always been smooth sailing for the state.
Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said that figuring out who will get the vaccine and coordinating vaccine distribution has been like laying down railroad tracks as the train is in motion.
“We’re trying to stay ahead of our shipments so that we always can be prepping the public and the media and who’s going to be vaccinating and making sure they’re all signed up so that the advisory committee and our team is well ahead of how much we get in,” Zink said.
Central Peninsula Hospital External Affairs Director Bruce Richards said Monday that 297 of the hospital’s front-line patient care employees had received their initial dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine and that CPH has another vaccine clinic scheduled for Jan. 5.
The hospital received a tray of 975 doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 16 and began vaccinating employees on Dec. 18. The hospital kept 540 of the doses and distributed the rest to other groups eligible to receive the vaccine at this time, such as front-line workers and pharmacies.
Both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines, which have efficacy rates of more than 90%, require two doses to be fully effective. Pfizer’s doses must be administered 21 days apart, while Moderna’s must be administered 28 days apart. Kelsey Pistonick with the Alaska Vaccine Assessment Program said Monday that the state has already received some of Pfizer’s follow-up shipment of vaccine doses that are in addition to whatever allocation the state will receive for the month of January.
Instead of receiving vaccine shipments on a weekly basis, like many other states are doing, DHSS opted to receive their entire monthly allotment at once, which they said would allow greater flexibility with distribution. Initially, second doses of the vaccine were being withheld at the federal level.
Richards said Monday that CPH has not received a second shipment of vaccines, but that they have enough for second doses and will be ordering the remainder on Jan. 12.
In determining who is able to get the COVID vaccine and when, the state considers recommendations from the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Vaccine allocation is divided into three phases.
Those phases are divided into sub-phases. Those sub-phases are then divided further into tiers.
Front-line health care workers, along with residents and staff of long-term care facilities were given first priority in Phase 1a, Tier 1.
Phase 1a, Tier 2 includes front-line EMS and Fire Service personnel frequently exposed to COVID-19 patients, community health aides/practitioners and health care workers providing vaccinations. Vaccinations for people in Phase 1a, Tiers 1 and 2 began on Dec. 15.
On Dec. 17, the Alaska Vaccine Allocation Advisory Committee met and unanimously determined who would be included in Phase 1a, Tier 3. Phase 1a, Tier 3 includes workers in health care settings who are at highest risk of contracting COVID-19 and who are essential to the health care infrastructure. Vaccinations for people in Phase 1a, Tier 3 are expected to begin on Jan. 4.
More information about COVID-19 vaccines in Alaska can be found on DHSS’ vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov.