Editorial: Keep on with vaccine clinic success

Recent senior vaccine clinic worked because of strong community health in Homer

By all accounts, the recent Moderna COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Homer for seniors age 65 and older worked flawlessly. Several seniors wrote letters recounting how well it went. Staff and volunteers with South Peninsula Hospital, the City of Homer, local rotary clubs and others made sure people with appointments were safely guided through the process.

Workers greeted seniors arriving at the clinic at Christian Community Church, checked them in and led them to vaccination stations. Nurses and others administered the vaccine and monitored them after. In two days, 714 seniors got their first doses of the life saving vaccine. At that rate, 20 of those clinics would get every woman, man and child on the southern Kenai Peninsula the first dose of their vaccine.

The only flaw in the system was that appointments ran out within about eight minutes of the sign-up period opening. More computer-savvy seniors or their friends snatched up the slots. The software also required people to reenter information if an appointment was filled and they had to find another one. SPH Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro said that software has been fixed.

People who tried to call in found themselves frustrated in getting appointments. Sixty appointments were set up for people who didn’t have Internet access. To help seniors, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management has now set up volunteer phone banks.

The success of a mass-vaccination effort can be attributed to the relationships built between health providers and citizens on the southern Kenai Peninsula. Efforts like the Rotary-South Peninsula Hospital Health Fair have created a culture where we know and value learning about our health. Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnership, or MAPP, laid the foundation where nurses, doctors, clinicians and others get together to survey health care needs and seek out ways to fill gaps in care.

The annual health fair blood draw helped southern peninsula residents learn about simple things like making appointments and showing up on time. In fact, the hospital used the software to book patients for blood draws to set up vaccine appointments.

Ferraro noted that in a Homer News article on the clinics.

“I think our history of working together as a community through the city and partnerships is coming alive,” she said.

Efforts like the vaccine clinic also speak to the strong community values we share here. When bonds come up for projects like hospital expansion, we also support those with our tax dollars. We’re a resilient, tough and caring town. That Alaska culture goes back millennia, to the first peoples who settled the land and knew that to survive they had to pull together. Respect for elders is a strong Native ethic that later immigrants accepted. When you know your neighbors, know their talents and skills, and know who to call — whether you’re trying to fix a broken pipe at midnight or get seniors vaccinated as quickly as possible — that’s a community that thrives.

The challenge ahead is not to set up mass vaccination clinics. We’ve already shown we can do that. Getting enough vaccine to build herd immunity will require a national and state effort. According to the Associated Press, just this week President Joe Biden’s administration said it seeks to buy another 200 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. If that happens, the United States would increase its supply to 600 million doses by this summer, enough to vaccinate 300 million people.

President Biden, get us the vaccines and Homer will take care of the rest. As we showed, we know how to do the job.

– Michael Armstrong, editor