Central Peninsula Hospital Pharmacy Technician Jessica Hulet rolls a cart carrying doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine into Central Peninsula Hospital on Wednesday, Dec. 16 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Central Peninsula Hospital Pharmacy Technician Jessica Hulet rolls a cart carrying doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine into Central Peninsula Hospital on Wednesday, Dec. 16 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

1 year after vaccine, push against virus continues

A Toyota Sienna minivan delivered the peninsula’s first COVID shots to Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna on Dec. 16 last year.

Around this time last year the first COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Alaska, and health officials have been reflecting on the progress — and challenges — that have come this year of the pandemic.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said during a press briefing Thursday that she wanted to recognize the state partnerships that made vaccine rollout possible.

“(We’re) thinking about all the conversations and the work that went in last Thanksgiving and Christmastime, thinking about getting prepared for having vaccines available,” Zink said.

She said she was especially appreciative of the efforts of tribal partners, local municipalities and clinicians for helping distribute the vaccines across every part of the state.

“I think it’s important that we pause (and) reflect on the tremendous work that happened at that time,” Zink said.

The first shipments of COVID vaccine arrived in Anchorage last year on Dec. 14 via UPS plane, according to previous Clarion reporting.

The 35,100 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot had many Alaskans excited and relieved, especially frontline health care workers who had been battling the virus largely unprotected for upward of 10 months.

A Toyota Sienna minivan delivered the peninsula’s first COVID shots to Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna on Dec. 16 last year, as employees in scrubs waved to the delivery crew below from windows in the upper floors of the facility.

In the early days of vaccine rollout last December and January, Alaska led the nation in coverage: schlepping vials to the most remote communities in the state via fishing boats, tiny planes, dog sleds, ferries and snow machines.

Since then, the state has experienced a lot.

About eight months after Alaska ranked No. 1 in vaccine coverage nationwide, the Last Frontier took over as the state with the highest number of new COVID cases per capita.

Hospitalizations and deaths skyrocketed in August, September and October across the state, accounting for more serious infections and deaths than the November 2020 wave — before vaccines had made it on the market.

COVID cases and hospitalizations have been trending downward statewide, but officials on Thursday still emphasized the importance of vaccination, a year later.

As of Wednesday, 56% of Alaskans 5 and older were fully vaccinated, and another 62% had received at least one dose. The Kenai Peninsula Borough is further behind in its vaccination efforts, with 47% of people 5 and older fully vaccinated and 51% with at least one shot as of Wednesday.

In the past year the U.S. has approved three COVID vaccines and slowly expanded eligibility requirements.

Pfizer is currently approved for everyone 5 years and older, while the Moderna and Johnson &d Johnson/Janssen vaccines are approved for anyone 18 and older.

Pfizer and Moderna boosters are also recommended for anyone 18 and older and six months out from their second dose. The J&J vaccine booster is recommended two months after the primary dose.

Getting a COVID vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines do not cost money.

Many organizations on the central peninsula, including Walmart, Walgreens, the Kenai Fire Department and Kenai Public Health, offer vaccines. They are also available for both residents and visitors at airports in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks.

Additionally, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy hosts a walk-in clinic in its strip mall storefront at the “Y” intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways. The clinic has extended its hours to Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Vaccination appointments can also be scheduled through the online portal PrepMod, which can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov.

A map of vaccine providers can be found on DHSS’ COVID-19 vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov.

People who would like assistance with scheduling a vaccination appointment can call the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management call center. The center operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. The central peninsula call center can be reached at 907-262-4636. The Homer call center can be reached at 907-235-4636. The Seward call center can be reached at 907-224-4636.

COVID testing locations

Officials encourage anyone with symptoms to test for COVID-19, despite vaccination status.

In Kenai, testing is available at the Chignik Lagoon Clinic, Odyssey Family Practice, Kenai Public Health Center and Capstone Clinic.

In Soldotna, testing is available at the Peninsula Community Health Center, Urgent Care of Soldotna, Walgreens and Soldotna Professional Pharmacy.

In Seward, testing is available at Providence Medical Center, Chugachmiut-North Star Health Clinic, Glacier Family Medicine, Seward Community Health Center and the Safeway pharmacy. The Seward Community Health Center at 417 First Avenue is offering drive-thru testing Tuesdays only, starting Nov. 16. Bring a face covering and photo ID.

In Homer, testing is available at South Peninsula Hospital, or through other area health care providers at Seldovia Village Tribe Health and Wellness, Kachemak Medical Group and Homer Medical Center.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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