A vial of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is seen at Central Emergency Services Station 1 on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

A vial of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is seen at Central Emergency Services Station 1 on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Almost half of eligible Alaskans have received at least 1 vaccine dose

According to the Department of Health and Social Services, almost half of all eligible Alaskans 16 and older — 48.7%— have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

That’s compared to the 41.6% of Alaskans 16 and up who are already fully vaccinated.

For seniors 65 years and older, 69.3% have already been fully vaccinated statewide.

In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 36.3% of Alaskans 16 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 41% have received at least one dose. Over half of peninsula seniors — 61.4% — are fully vaccinated.

Out of 11 Alaska regions, the Southeast Region – Northern leads the state at a 62.9% vaccination rate for those 16 and older, according to state data updated on Thursday. In contrast, the Kenai Peninsula Borough ranks No. 9 in vaccine rollout. The Matanuska-Susitna region has the lowest percentage, at only 27.9% of its eligible population vaccinated against COVID-19.

“There’s a lot of work that we need to do to get those communities up into higher percentages,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said in a press briefing Thursday.

Alaska is No. 4 in the nation for vaccine rollout at 32.8% across all ages, according to NPR. The state now trails Maine, New Mexico and Connecticut. An estimated 26.4% of the country is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The United States rose to No. 10 worldwide in vaccine rollout, according to CNN on Thursday. The British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar leads the world with a 91.5% vaccination rate.

Heidi Hedberg, director of public health at the DHSS, said on Thursday that a majority of the state’s federal funding has been allocated to vaccine distribution.

Alaska received over $32 million from a federal grant in February for the purpose of infection control. Around $13.8 million is for vaccine rollout, about $11.2 million for COVID-19 testing and the remaining $7.5 million for health equity.

“We have been spending more and more time talking about health equity, which is really just leveling the playing field,” Hedberg said.

She emphasized the importance of educational outreach and vaccine accessibility for demographics with fewer resources, as well as communicating in a person’s native language if it isn’t English.

“There’s great work happening around health equity, specifically in the lens of COVID with testing and vaccines,” she said.

The federal grant is available for renewal from March 2021 through March 2022.

Dr. Coleman Cutchins said on Thursday that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have already started clinical trials of their vaccines in children younger than 12 years old. He said the companies’ estimated study completion date in this age group is around August or September 2021.

Additionally, Pfizer has applied for emergency use authorization for its vaccine in children 12 to 15 years old, and is awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

“Honestly, we could (have) approval in that age group any day, like tomorrow wouldn’t surprise me,” Cutchins said. “I think it’s most likely we’re within a month-ish. I would be shocked if it’s further than the end of May.”

Health officials with the state have reiterated the importance of choosing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, with the first shot that becomes available.

Matthew Bobo, manager of the DHSS Alaska Immunization Program, said on Thursday that around 20% to 30% of the state’s population doesn’t want to get vaccinated. State Physician Dr. Sar Medoff said in a separate informational session with the Kenai Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday that if 70% of the population doesn’t get vaccinated, the virus will likely continue to mutate into more contagious variants and harm the community.

New cases

DHSS announced 216 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the statewide total to 64,202. Alaska remains at high-alert level, with 21.85 cases per 100,000 people.

The new case count includes 13 on the Kenai Peninsula. Affected peninsula communities include Soldotna and Kenai with five each, and one each in the Kenai Peninsula Borough North, Kenai Peninsula Borough South and Seward.

Alaska also reported 70 new cases in Fairbanks, 39 in Anchorage, 34 in North Pole, 14 in Wasilla, eight in Palmer five in the Bethel Census Area, four in both Chugiak and Juneau, three in Eagle River, two each in the Copper River Census Area, Delta Junction, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the Kusilvak Census Area, the Northwest Arctic Borough, Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area, and Willow, and one each in Bethel, Ketchikan, Nome and Sitka.

In addition, another four new nonresident COVID cases were reported on Thursday.

DHSS also announced eight new hospitalizations and zero new deaths, bringing the statewide totals to 1,445 and 329. As of Thursday, there were 49 total COVID-related hospitalizations in Alaska, with five of the patients on ventilators.

Getting vaccinated

A total of 102 COVID-19 vaccination appointments were available across multiple central peninsula clinics as of Thursday, according to PrepMod, the online portal through which appointments can be scheduled. PrepMod 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. 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.

COVID-19 testing locations on the 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 Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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