Kenai Peninsula Borough employee Kathy Trinh helps Ronald Huntsman check out after receiving his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a clinic at the Nikiski Community Recreation Center on Jan. 30, 2021. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Peninsula Borough employee Kathy Trinh helps Ronald Huntsman check out after receiving his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a clinic at the Nikiski Community Recreation Center on Jan. 30, 2021. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

After a year of isolation, seniors begin getting vaccines

Nikiski resident shares his vaccination experience

More than 180 Alaskans received their first dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in Nikiski on Saturday, where the Nikiski Fire Department hosted a clinic for eligible recipients.

The vaccine is still only available to Alaskans who are front-line health care workers or people over the age of 65. Most of the vaccine recipients on Saturday were seniors.

Ronald Huntsman, a 74 year-old resident of Nikiski, was one of the dozens of residents who received their first dose of the vaccine Saturday. The Clarion followed Huntsman though his experience at the clinic.

When he walked through the side doors of the Nikiski Community Recreation Center about five minutes before his scheduled appointment time of 1:55 p.m., he was greeted by a member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s incident management team, who checked him in and brought him into one of two rooms where medical professionals were administering the vaccine.

Like other clinics held in the area, the volunteers administering the vaccine included health care professionals from different industries and walks of life — school nurses, Fred Meyer pharmacists, and Nikiski firefighters could be seen injecting residents with their first dose of the Moderna vaccine, which requires two doses to be fully effective.

Ty Smith, a paramedic/firefighter with the Nikiski Fire Department, asked Huntsman a few basic questions before delivering his dose — including whether he preferred the shot in his left arm or his right. Smith said that the vaccine can be injected on either side, but the arm that gets injected tends to feel a little sore afterwards. Huntsman opted for the left arm, saying that he had injured his right arm years ago and thus had more strength in his left.

After the injection, Smith gave Huntsman a sticky note with the time “14:15” written on it. That was the time that Huntsman would be free to leave, because part of the vaccination process includes observing the patient for 15 minutes to ensure that there are no negative reactions or side effects. For people with a history of adverse reactions to vaccines, the observation time is 30 minutes.

After Huntsman received his shot and clarified which vaccine he was actually receiving, he walked across the hall to an observation room, where Kenai Peninsula Borough employee Kathy Trinh checked Huntsman out and gave him instructions on scheduling his appointment for the second dose. Huntsman said his daughter signed him up for the first appointment, and there were volunteers in the observation room ready to help with the process of scheduling the second round.

Trinh, who also takes calls for the borough’s COVID-19 vaccination hotline, said that many older residents have had difficulty navigating the online system for scheduling appointments, and many borough residents do not have the internet access needed to access the state’s scheduling portal. As a result, a lot of the calls Trinh takes while manning the hotline are from those residents, and she and the other hotline operators either schedule an appointment on the caller’s behalf right away or put them on a list to call when an appointment becomes available.

The Moderna vaccine requires a second dose four weeks after the initial dose is administered, so all of the vaccine recipients Saturday were assigned a time slot on Feb. 27 — four weeks from Saturday — to ensure that everyone who received their first dose also gets their second. Julie Denison, who works in the borough’s land management department and is also part of the incident management team, helped Huntsman schedule his second appointment before helping him pass the 15-minute window with small talk about the weather and local restaurants.

After about 10 minutes, Huntsman was asked how he felt.

“Hungry,” Huntsman said.

By 2:15 p.m., Huntsman was walking out the door, deciding whether to head to the Treehouse or Charlie’s Angels for lunch.

Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.

Julie Denison, member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Incident Management Team, helps Ronald Huntsman of Nikiski schedule his second round of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccine clinic at the Nikiski Community Recreation Center on Jan. 30, 2021. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Julie Denison, member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Incident Management Team, helps Ronald Huntsman of Nikiski schedule his second round of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccine clinic at the Nikiski Community Recreation Center on Jan. 30, 2021. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion 
Ty Smith, paramedic/firefighter with the Nikiski Fire Department, administers the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Ronald Huntsman of Nikiski during a clinic at the Nikiski Community Recreation Center on Saturday.

Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion Ty Smith, paramedic/firefighter with the Nikiski Fire Department, administers the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Ronald Huntsman of Nikiski during a clinic at the Nikiski Community Recreation Center on Saturday.

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