In renovated chambers during their first meeting of the new year, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly was briefed by Dr. Kristin Mitchell, who works at Central Peninsula Hospital, about the COVID-19 vaccine, which continues to be rolled out in Alaska and nationwide.
A large portion of Mitchell’s presentation focused on combating misinformation surrounding the vaccine, such as how vaccines were able to be produced so quickly. Mitchell said that funding from the federal government played a big role, but that it was mostly due to vaccine trials being allowed to happen concurrently instead of sequentially.
“I’ve heard a lot of concern about things being rushed,” Mitchell said. “Back to Operation Warp Speed, what happens is normally in phase one there are tens of people looking for safety. In phase two there are hundreds of people where we’re looking at the vaccine’s effectiveness and for side effects and then phase three increases to thousands of people to look at safety and effectiveness.”
Mitchell also clarified that the vaccine does not contain any live virus, any human cells or fetal tissue or tracking devices.
“You can’t get COVID illness from the vaccine,” Mitchell said. “You may feel a little bit under the weather after getting vaccinated [because] it does jazz up the immune system and when the immune system is working overtime you can feel achy. Your arm could feel sore. You could even have a little lymph node swelling … that does not mean that you are sick or you’re infectious.”
Assembly Member Bill Elam said that he has already received an initial dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and agreed that his side effects were mild.
“I’ve already gotten it and so the side effects and symptoms that [Dr. Mitchell] has shared have been very mild,” Elam said. “I mean, I was a little sore — typical vaccine type of thing, you know — but nothing bad.”
Both Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna’s vaccines, which have efficacy rates of more than 90%, require two doses to be fully effective. Pfizer’s doses must be administered 21 days apart, while Moderna’s doses must be administered 28 days apart.
“In the world of vaccines, 95% effectiveness is like a dream come true,” Mitchell said. “Most people don’t hope that we will get vaccines that are that effective.”
Dr. Mitchell’s full presentation to the assembly can be viewed on the borough’s website.
Central Peninsula Hospital received a full tray of 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 16 and acts as a mini depot for other health care providers in the area, such as Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, because they have a freezer capable of maintaining the ultracool temperatures needed to store the vaccine. CPH External Affairs Director Bruce Richards said Tuesday that the hospital would be placing an order for another tray of 975 doses this week.
To date, the State of Alaska has received 114,800 initial doses of COVID-19 vaccine for the months of December 2020 and January 2021, including 62,400 doses from Pfizer and 52,400 doses from Moderna. As of Jan. 6, 20,775 initial doses of vaccines from both companies had been administered in Alaska.
The borough’s Office of Emergency Management Emergency Manager Dan Nelson said Wednesday that at least 1,316 vaccines had been distributed in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, not including second doses for health care workers and residents of group homes.
Who can receive the COVID-19 vaccine right now?
In determining who is able to get the COVID vaccine and when, the state considers recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Vaccine allocation is divided into three phases.
Those phases are divided into sub-phases. Those sub-phases are then divided further into tiers. Front-line health care workers, along with residents and staff of long-term care facilities were given first priority in Phase 1a, Tier 1.
Phase 1a, Tier 2 includes front-line EMS and Fire Service personnel frequently exposed to COVID-19 patients, community health aides/practitioners and health care workers providing vaccinations. Vaccinations for people in Phase 1a, Tiers 1 and 2 began on Dec. 15.
Phase 1a, Tier 3 includes workers in health care settings who are at highest risk of contracting COVID-19 and who are essential to the health care infrastructure who meet specific criteria outlined by the state. Vaccinations for people in Phase 1a, Tier 3 began on Jan. 4.
People in all Phase 1a tiers were eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as of Tuesday.
People in Phase 1b Tier 1, meaning Alaskans who are 65 and older, were able to schedule appointments for Jan. 11 on Wednesday at noon.
COVID-19 vaccine providers
People eligible to schedule an appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine include people in Phase 1a, Tiers 1-3. People in Phase 1b, Tier 1, or Alaskans ages 65 and older, could begin scheduling appointments on Wednesday at 12 p.m.
In Soldotna, appointments can be scheduled at Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, at Peninsula Community Health Services or at Fred Meyer. At Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, appointments can be made via phone or online. Appointments at Peninsula Community Health Services can be made via phone, email or online. At Fred Meyer, appointments can be made online.
Soldotna Professional Pharmacy has set times on Jan. 14, 15, 18, 20 and 22. Peninsula Community Health Services has set times on Jan. 7, 12, 14, 19 and 21. At Peninsula Community Health Services, a registration packet must be completed for appointment. Fred Meyer has set times on Jan. 7, 14 and 21.
In Homer, appointments can be scheduled at South Peninsula Hospital. Appointments at South Peninsula Hospital can be made via an online survey. South Peninsula Hospital has availability on Jan. 8 and 9.
In Seward, appointments can be scheduled at Seward Community Health Center or at Safeway Pharmacy. Appointments at Seward Community Health Center can be via phone and appointments at Safeway can be made online.
Seward Community Health Center has set times on Jan. 7, 12, 13 and 14. Safeway has set times on Jan. 13 and 20. Individuals going through Safeway should bring their insurance card and be prepared to wait 15-30 minutes after being vaccinated.
More information about the COVID-19 vaccine in Alaska can be found on DHSS vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.