COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

‘A lot of work to do’: Officials hope for summer bounce in vaccinations

Zink said just six months ago she didn’t think the state would have as much vaccine stock as it does now.

State health officials said during a press briefing on Thursday that although Alaska has seen a drop in positive COVID-19 infections, the state still has some work to do over the summer.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said the longer Alaskans climb the hill, the steeper it gets.

Zink emphasized that people who were eager to get vaccinated early came out in large numbers last winter, but now the state and nation are seeing a plateau in inoculation rates.

“That phase of this vaccination effort is over,” she said. “We are now looking at making sure that people have the information.”

Many of the people yet to get their shots are looking for convenience, the officials with the Department of Health and Social Services said.

Zink said just six months ago she didn’t think the state would have as much vaccine stock as it does now.

“We’re definitely seeing more supply than demand,” State Immunization Manager Matthew Bobo said on Thursday.

Zink presented data showing that Alaska is now at low risk in all categories: COVID-19 transmission rates, hospitalizations and test positivity.

Still, the officials said they hope to see more Alaskans choose to get their shots.

“These are not experimental vaccines at this point,” Zink said. “With over 304 million doses we would expect any small safety signals to arise at this point and we are not seeing them.”

DHSS officials also emphasized the importance of getting children vaccinated as soon as possible.

“For everyone I think it’s a risk-benefit decision to get vaccinated,” Zink said.

She cited a study that showed that 12- to 17-year-olds are more likely to be seriously impacted by COVID-19 than influenza.

Out of 204 adolescent hospitalizations studied, nearly one-third of the kids were admitted to the intensive care unit and 5% were placed on mechanical ventilation. None of the kids died.

As the next academic year nears in the fall, State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said he suspects to see an uptick in positive cases.

As of now, he said, Alaska is about 10 percentage points below the national vaccination average.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to kind of catch up with the rest of the nation,” he said.

Coleman Cutchins, a clinical pharmacist with the state, said he hopes people plan ahead to get their kids vaccinated before school starts in the fall.

There is a three-week interval between Pfizer doses and a two-week period after the second shot to be considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Keeping this timeline in mind, Cutchins said the latest a kid could get the first dose and be fully vaccinated by the first day of school would be in the first week of July.

“I really think we need to be working towards increased vaccine rates for fall now, because fall will be here before we know it,” he said.

New cases

DHSS announced 55 new COVID-19 cases from Monday and Tuesday.

Alaska sits at the low alert level — categorized by having between zero and five positive COVID cases per 100,000 people — at 4.16.

The new case count only included two, both reported in Kenai, on the central peninsula. The Kenai Peninsula Borough remains in the low alert level, reporting an average of three cases on from Monday to Tuesday. The Southeast Region – Northern is the lowest risk of all 11 census regions, with only 2.1 cases per 100,000 people.

Alaska also saw 11 new cases in Anchorage, five each in Juneau, Nome and Wasilla, three in the Copper River Census Area, two each in Delta Junction, Fairbanks, North Pole and Tok, and one each in Bristol Bay/Lake and Peninsula combined, Chugiak, Craig, Dillingham, the Dillingham Census Area, Eagle River, Hooper Bay, Ketchikan, the Kusilvak Census Area, Palmer, the Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area, the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area and Unalaska.

There have been 1,587 resident hospitalizations and 362 resident deaths since the pandemic began, with six new hospitalizations and zero new deaths reported between Monday and Tuesday. There are currently 18 COVID-related hospitalizations with three of the patients on ventilators.

Getting vaccinated

Multiple vaccination appointments were available as of Tuesday, according to PrepMod, the online portal through which appointments can be scheduled. PrepMod can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov.

These clinics include the Kenai Public Health Center and the Soldotna Professional Pharmacy. Public Health has COVID-19 vaccination clinics Monday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Wednesday at Soldotna Creek Park — walk-up site; Thursday, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. The health center is located at 630 Barnacle Way, Suite A, in Kenai. Call 907-335-3400 if you have questions or needs assistance getting signed up for a vaccination anywhere on the peninsula.

Vaccines are also available through the Kenai Fire Department by calling 907-283-8270 and every week at the Soldotna Wednesday Market.

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 Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

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 through alternative entities can be found on the map by clicking the icon of the preferred provider. Appointments at Walmart can be scheduled at walmart.com/covidvaccine.

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.

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. To schedule a ride, Alaska Cab can be reached at 907-283-6000 and CARTS can be reached at 907-262-8900.

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, Dena’ina Health Clinic, 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 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.

In Ninilchik, NTC Community Clinic is providing testing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from noon to 4 p.m. 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 Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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