Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink addresses members of the media during a remote press conference on Thursday, March 11 in Alaska. (Screenshot)

Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink addresses members of the media during a remote press conference on Thursday, March 11 in Alaska. (Screenshot)

Health officials emphasize importance of vaccinations

About 26.9% of peninsula residents 16 and older have received at least one dose

Nearly one third of Alaskans over the age of 16 — 32.5% — have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday. Nearly 70% of Alaskans 65 and older — 68.4% — have received at least one dose.

Those numbers come just days after state officials said they would begin offering vaccines to anyone old enough to receive one. Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine can be administered to people 16 and older, while Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s can be administered to people 18 and older.

State health officials said during a virtual press conference on Thursday, however, that vaccines are only effective if people choose to be vaccinated. Alaska saw a slight uptick in the number of new COVID-19 cases that were reported in the state on Thursday: 238. That increase comes as the state attempts to address vaccine hesitancy, which officials said Thursday they are “very concerned” about.

“We know that vaccination is our ticket out of this pandemic and we need to get very high coverage rates in order to make sure that we’re not going to continue to see outbreaks that occur in Alaska and nationally,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have efficacy rates of more than 90%, while Johnson & Johnson’s is about 66%. Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink emphasized Thursday that vaccines aren’t effective at all if people don’t take them and spoke about a recent couple she treated, both of whom tested positive for COVID-19. The wife, she said, required oxygen and was struggling to breathe, while the husband, who had been vaccinated, was asymptomatic.

“We know all of these vaccines work amazingly well, all of them work at least to some significant degree against the variants,” Zink said. “This is our ticket out of pandemic and I just want Alaskans to have the direct information … and be able to make a choice that is based on real data and science to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

As of Thursday, more than 183,000 Alaskans had received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine and more than 126,000 had already received both. The state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Monitoring Dashboard said that as of Thursday, 11,907 of 47,102 borough residents 16 and older — about 26.9% — had received at least one dose. About 57.67% of people 65 or older in the Kenai Peninsula Borough had received at least one dose as of Thursday.

The central peninsula’s largest COVID vaccine clinic to date will be held on Saturday at Soldotna Prep School. As of Thursday at 2 p.m., there were more than 160 vaccine appointments available for the three clinics, which are being offered by Soldotna Professional Pharmacy and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management, among others.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine will be offered during appointments scheduled between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. The Moderna vaccine will be offered during appointments scheduled between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be offered during appointments scheduled between 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.

In addition to the large clinic at Soldotna Prep, the Kenai Fire Department is also hosting a large vaccine clinic on Saturday at Beacon Occupational Health from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. As of Thursday at 2 p.m., there were 26 appointments available. That clinic will offer the Moderna vaccine.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new guidance for people who are fully vaccinated earlier this week. People who are fully vaccinated, they said, can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing. They can also visit with low-risk unvaccinated people from a single household indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing. They can also refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic.

New guidance for nursing home residents who have been vaccinated came Wednesday as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that nursing home residents who are vaccinated against COVID-19 can visit with loved ones and all residents can enjoy more indoor visits, according to the Associated Press.

More than 575,000 individual doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been allocated to Alaska since last December. That number includes allocations for Indian Health Services (IHS) and to pharmacies participating in the CDC’s Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 vaccination, to which at least 10,480 pairs of vaccine have been allocated.

Through that program, Alaska’s pharmacy partners are Walmart Inc., Albertsons Companies, Inc. and Walgreens, meaning they receive vaccine allocations in addition to the state’s allocation. Through that program, the Kenai Walmart is able to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to people eligible to receive it. Appointments at Walmart can be scheduled at walmart.com/covidvaccine.

People who would like assistance with scheduling an appointment to be vaccinated can call the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management call center. The center operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. 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.

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 with a provider that does not use the state’s scheduling system can be found on the provider map by clicking on the icon of the provider through which people would like to schedule an appointment. Appointments at Walmart can be scheduled at walmart.com/covidvaccine.

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 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 Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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