Officials with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on Thursday emphasized the importance of getting all required COVID-19 vaccines doses, especially now as the delta variant of the coronavirus has made its way to the state.
“That two-dose vaccine is critically important against the delta variant,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said during Thursday’s press briefing. “We really want to make sure that people get both doses of the mRNA vaccine to protect themselves.”
The delta variant, first detected in India, has been classified as a “variant of concern” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A variant of concern is one for which there is evidence of increased transmissibility, more severe disease, significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures, according to the CDC.
In Alaska, there have been a total of 13 delta cases detected, with nine of them spotted in the last week.
Zink said most health officials in the U.S. — 96% — have decided to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I think there’s pretty widespread consensus around the scientific and medical community that these vaccines are incredibly safe and incredibly efficacious,” she said.
Dr. Louisa Castrodale — an epidemiologist with the state — said Alaska will likely continue to see COVID cases, but the effects could be less dire with the more people who get vaccinated.
“If we could predict where there was going to be an outbreak or a little flare that would be fantastic, but we can’t,” she said. “Overall where there’s been high uptake of vaccine, we expect less outbreak and less situations in those areas. … But we do know as we’re going through the — hopefully — deceleration of this pandemic, that we are going to see these little events.”
Castrodale said there will likely still be community outbreaks.
“The likelihood that we would ever eradicate this disease is slim and so we’re going to always see a little bit of activity with COVID and sort of managing that the best we can is the goal,” she said.
Dr. Liz Ohlsen, a staff physician with state public health, said according to information from the U.K., the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has proved effective against the delta variant, and they expect the Moderna shot to provide similar protection since the two vaccines themselves are similar.
“The Pfizer two-shot regimen is very highly efficacious against hospitalization and death from any of the variants,” Ohlsen said.
With only one dose of the Pfizer shot, studies show decreased protection against variants.
“States around the country are reporting that people are getting more motivated to get their second dose — if they missed it — now with the data that two doses are much better than one, specifically against this variant,” State Clinical Pharmacist Dr. Coleman Cutchins said. “I think the more we can make people aware of that data, the better.”
Immunization Program Manager Matthew Bobo said that just under 5% of people in Alaska are overdue for their second mRNA dose. That’s approximately 16,000 individuals.
People who have already caught COVID-19 and have antibodies for the disease are still encouraged to get vaccinated, Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz said on Thursday.
“They’re produced to provide better and longer protection, so even if you have been infected with the COVID virus we’re still recommending that you do get vaccinated,” she said.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough reported five new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, according to DHSS data. Homer had two, and Kenai, Seward and Soldotna had one each.
Statewide, Alaska reported 81 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.
There were 25 new cases reported in Anchorage, 14 in Hooper Bay, nine in Wasilla, four in Unalaska, three in Eagle River, two each in the Bethel Census Area, Big Lake, Chugiak, the Copper River Census Area, Fairbanks and North Pole, and one each in Bethel, Juneau and Sitka.
Alaska remains at the low alert level — categorized by having between zero and five positive COVID cases per 100,000 people — at 3.7 positive cases, a slight increase from last week.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough also remains in the low alert division.
The borough reported an average of 2.3 cases on Wednesday. The Fairbanks North Star Borough is now the lowest risk of all 11 census regions after a late-pandemic breakout, with only 1.6 cases per 100,000 people.
There have been 1,602 resident hospitalizations and 367 resident deaths since the pandemic began, with zero new hospitalizations and one new death reported on Wednesday. The man who died was an Anchorage resident in his 80s.
According to the DHSS, there are currently 15 COVID-related hospitalizations with four of the patients on ventilators.
State vaccination rates have been updated to reflect the newly eligible 12- to 15-year-old demographic, which now qualifies for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Anyone 18 and older is eligible for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen shots.
Zink said on Wednesday that vaccine uptake has been slow, at about 1,000 new shots administered per day.
Over half of Alaskans 12 and older — 55% — had received at least one vaccine dose as of Wednesday, and 49% were fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 42% of people 12 and up were fully vaccinated, and 45% had received at least one dose.
Out of 11 Alaska regions, the Kenai Peninsula Borough ranks No. 10 in vaccine rollout at 42%. The Juneau Region still leads the state with a 71% vaccination rate for those 12 and older, according to data updated on Wednesday.
COVID-19 vaccines are free of charge.
Multiple vaccination appointments were available as of Wednesday, 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 Soldotna Professional Pharmacy.
Vaccines are also available through the Kenai Fire Department by calling 907-283-8270, by walk-in every week at the Soldotna Wednesday Market, and 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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.