In this image captured from video, Gov. Mike Dunleavy addresses Alaskans during a remote press conference on Tuesday.

In this image captured from video, Gov. Mike Dunleavy addresses Alaskans during a remote press conference on Tuesday.

‘A gigantic milestone’: Alaska becomes 1st state to open vaccines to everyone

The state announced the change Tuesday

Alaska on Tuesday became the first state to offer COVID-19 vaccines to anyone, 16 and older, who wants one.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink announced the eligibility expansion during a press conference on Tuesday evening.

The announcement came almost a week after the state significantly expanded eligibility criteria for people wanting to be vaccinated and as thousands of vaccination appointments sat unfilled statewide. On the central peninsula alone, 439 appointments across all scheduled clinics were available as of 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday, almost two hours after state officials announced that anyone over 16 was eligible. That includes people who live and work in Alaska.

Alaska has consistently led the nation in vaccine rollout, with state data showing that 23.6% of the state’s population has received at least one dose of their vaccine and about 16.4% has received both. That is compared to the nationwide percentage of people who have received at least one dose, which NPR’s COVID vaccine tracker estimates is about 18.1%.

Dunleavy and Zink emphasized during Monday’s press conference that as the first state to make the vaccine available to everyone, Alaska is closer to coming out of the pandemic.

“This has been a long pandemic,” Zink said. “This is our opportunity to move forward.”

During the same conference, however, Dunleavy said that he respects people who do not want to be vaccinated and that he will be signing up to be vaccinated because he doesn’t want to repeat the “inconvenience” of having COVID-19. Dunleavy’s office announced at the end of February that Dunleavy had tested positive after being exposed and was experiencing mild symptoms.

The state’s announcement also came days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new guidance for people who are fully vaccinated. People who are fully vaccinated, they said, can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing. They can also visit with low-risk unvaccinated people from a single household indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing. They can also refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic.

As of Tuesday, more than 171,000 Alaskans had received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine and more than 119,000 had already received both. The state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Monitoring Dashboard said that as of Tuesday, 11,760 of 47,102 borough residents — about 25% — who are 16 and older had received at least one dose. About 54.6% of people 65 or older in the Kenai Peninsula Borough had received at least one dose as of Tuesday.

How to get vaccinated

The central peninsula’s largest COVID vaccine clinic to date will be held on Saturday at Soldotna Prep School. As of Tuesday at 3:45 p.m., there were more than 300 vaccine appointments available for the three clinics, which are being offered by Soldotna Professional Pharmacy and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management, among others.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine will be offered during appointments scheduled between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. The Moderna vaccine will be offered during appointments scheduled between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be offered during appointments scheduled between 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.

In addition to the large clinic at Soldotna Prep, the Kenai Fire Department is also hosting a large vaccine clinic on Saturday at Beacon Occupational Health from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. As of Tuesday at 3:45 p.m., there were nearly 100 appointments available. That clinic will offer the Moderna vaccine.

More than 575,000 individual doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been allocated to Alaska since last December. That number includes allocations for Indian Health Services (IHS) and to pharmacies participating in the CDC’s Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 vaccination, to which 10,480 pairs of vaccine had been allocated as of Tuesday.

Through that program, Alaska’s pharmacy partners are Walmart Inc., Albertsons Companies, Inc. and Walgreens, meaning they receive vaccine allocations in addition to the state’s allocation. Through that program, the Kenai Walmart is able to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to people eligible to receive it. Appointments at Walmart can be scheduled at walmart.com/covidvaccine.

People who would like assistance with scheduling an appointment to be vaccinated can call the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management call center. The center operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. 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.

A map of vaccine providers can be found on DHSS’ COVID-19 vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov. Many providers are using the state’s program to schedule appointments, which can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov. Instructions on how to schedule an appointment with a provider that does not use the state’s scheduling system can be found on the provider map by clicking on the icon of the provider through which people would like to schedule an appointment. Appointments at Walmart can be scheduled at walmart.com/covidvaccine.

The City of Kenai is offering transportation to and from vaccine clinics located in Kenai in partnership with CARTS and Alaska Cab. Rides will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis until the budgeted funds run out. In order to participate in the program, people must be going from an address located in Kenai to a clinic in Kenai and will need to provide proof of vaccination.

COVID-19 testing locations on the Kenai Peninsula

On the central peninsula, testing is available at Capstone Family Clinic, K-Beach Medical, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, Central Peninsula Urgent Care, Peninsula Community Health Services, Urgent Care of Soldotna, the Kenai Public Health Center and Odyssey Family Practice. Call Kenai Public Health at 907-335-3400 for information on testing criteria for each location.

In Homer, testing is available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at the lower level of South Peninsula Hospital’s Specialty Clinic as well as through SVT Health & Wellness clinics in Homer, Seldovia and Anchor Point. Call ahead at the hospital at 907-235-0235 and at the SVT clinics at 907-226-2228. Testing is also available at Homer Public Health Center daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In Ninilchik, NTC Community Clinic is providing testing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The testing is only for those traveling, symptomatic, needing testing for medical procedures, or with a known exposure after seven days. Only 20 tests will be offered per day. To make an appointment to be tested at the NTC Community Clinic, call 907-567-3970.

In Seward, testing is available at Providence Seward, Seward Community Health Center, Glacier Family Medicine and North Star Health Clinic.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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