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)

Health care providers urge Alaskans to get vaccinated, and quickly

In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 28.4% of Alaskans 16 and up are fully vaccinated against the disease.

State medical officials on Thursday emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated as case numbers across the state continue to tick upward.

During a Zoom press conference, Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said she has seen a slight increase in new COVID cases overall, as well as a plateau in the number of people getting vaccinated.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced 227 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday evening, totalling 61,6918 in the state. This includes 14 on the Kenai Peninsula. There was one new hospitalization and no new deaths among Alaska residents. As of Thursday, there were 35 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Alaska, and six more under investigation for COVID-related illness. Nine of the patients were on ventilators.

Tessa Walker-Linderman, a nurse with DHSS, said Thursday that the state has already vaccinated people who have been eagerly waiting, and now officials are strategizing to reach the population that needs more vaccine convenience.

Zink voiced her concern for circulating misinformation.

“People kind of see it as equivalent between the risk of COVID versus the side effects of this vaccine, and the data is really clear that is not the case,” she said. “These are highly effective vaccines and … I just want to make sure every Alaskan has that information and data to make a truly informed decision.”

Zink also provided data showing an increase in the 20- to 39-year-old demographic being hospitalized in Alaska.

“I think there has been a misperception that this is just an older-person disease,” Zink said. “This affects every age group.”

Herd immunity defines the point in which a population becomes immune to an infectious disease, and varies among illnesses. According to the World Health Organization, herd immunity against measles occurred at 95% of the population being fully vaccinated but polio only required 80%.

“Herd immunity is a dynamic number; it’s not a specific number overall,” Zink said. “Our kids can’t be vaccinated yet, and so we really need to just do everything we can to protect our children.”

Officials are also seeing trends of children coming down with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome after exposure to COVID-19, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Joe McLaughlin, state epidemiologist, said data shows kids are at risk for developing chronic illness from COVID-19, and the best preventative measure would be to vaccinate Alaska’s adult population.

Kelsey Pistotnik, an official with the Alaska Immunization Program, said the majority of people with appointments for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna double-dose vaccines have made their second appointment. She and colleague Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz emphasized the importance of returning to receive the second booster in order to achieve a higher efficacy rate against COVID-19.

As of Thursday, 33.3% of Alaskans 16 and up were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and 43% have received at least one dose.

In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 28.4% of Alaskans 16 and up are fully vaccinated against the disease. Over half of peninsula seniors — 57.1% — are fully vaccinated. Across all age groups, over one-fifth — 22.7% — of peninsula residents are fully vaccinated.

According to NPR on Thursday, Alaska is fourth nationwide in vaccine rollout with 24.9% of the state’s total population fully vaccinated. Alaska trails New Mexico, Rhode Island and South Dakota.

Many U.S. medical officials have been concerned about the COVID-19 variants originating in Britain, South Africa and Brazil. While people should be concerned, McLaughlin said the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approved vaccines still show a high efficacy rate against more transmissible variants.

Jayme Parker with DHSS said on Thursday that while the CDC has stated the majority of new COVID-19 infections in the U.S. have come from the British variant strain, that is not true in Alaska.

Over 175 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 the DHSS’ COVID-19 vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov.

People who would like assistance with scheduling a vaccination appointment can call the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management call center at 907-262-4636. The Homer call center can be reached at 907-235-4636, and the Seward call center can be reached at 907-224-4636.

“Fortunately, we have a lot of vaccine right now,” McLaughlin said. “We have more vaccine than we have people who are willing to go in and make appointments to get vaccinated. So we need to change that.”

For fully vaccinated adults, the CDC no longer requires a quarantine after coming into contact with a COVID positive person, nor is it necessary to self isolate or get tested before or after domestic travel. In Alaska, officials still recommend testing before leaving or upon entry to the state.

“As we go on with this pandemic and more and more people become vaccinated,” McLaughlin said, “that is our ticket out.”

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, 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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