Editor’s note: A photo caption for this article has been edited to correct the name of the man who received his COVID-19 vaccine from retired school nurse Tracy Silta.
The central peninsula hosted its first large-scale COVID-19 vaccination clinics Saturday.
At Soldotna Prep, 350 residents got their first round of the Moderna vaccine, while another 85 received shots at the Nikiski Senior Center.
The clinic in Soldotna was administered by Soldotna Professional Pharmacy and staffed by more than a dozen volunteers. The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Office of Emergency Management assisted with the staffing, bringing in members of their Incident Management and Community Emergency Response Teams as well as pharmacists and nurses, both active and retired, from around the community.
Residents who scheduled an appointment to get vaccinated Saturday waited in their cars outside the building, and either walked in at their appointed time or were sent an alert to their mobile phone letting them know it was their turn. Bud Sexton, operations manager for OEM, said the process went smoothly and ensured that people weren’t waiting in lines.
People walked through the side doors of Soldotna Prep to check themselves in, and then were brought into an adjacent room where a half-dozen nurses and pharmacists sat at vaccination stations. All of the doses administered on Saturday were the first round of the Moderna vaccine, which requires two doses spaced 28 days apart.
After being given the vaccine, people at the clinic walked down the hall to an observation area, where additional volunteers monitored the patients for any adverse effects or allergic reactions. A medical team was on hand and ready to respond and transport people to the hospital if needed, Sexton said, but the day went by without anyone needing medical attention.
The volunteers in the observation room also assisted with scheduling the second round of vaccination, which will be administered at Soldotna Prep on Feb. 20. Borough Emergency Manager Dan Nelson said that making sure people were signed up for their second dose was one of the most important parts of the process.
“Something that we’ve been seeing is that folks who are older might not have access to internet at home or might have asked somebody to help them with their first appointment,” Nelson said. “So we’re putting a lot of emphasis on making sure they come back for the second dose so it’s effective.”
In Alaska, the vaccine is currently available to front-line health care workers and residents over the age of 65. Sexton said that represents a significant portion of the population — about 20% of borough residents are over the age of 65, for example — so it could take some time to get those groups fully vaccinated.
“In rough numbers, we’re probably looking at about 11,000 people in that group on the peninsula,” Sexton said. “So if 60-70% of them want the vaccine, that’s around 7,000 people. So it’s going to take a while.”
As of Friday, Sexton said, the State of Alaska had recorded around 3,600 vaccinations on the peninsula. With Saturday’s clinics in Soldotna and Nikiski, as well as three more clinics scheduled in Soldotna, Ninilchik, Nikiski and Cooper Landing this week, the borough could be looking at more than 5,000 vaccinations administered by the end of the week. Sexton noted that although that number may seem small, Alaska currently has the highest vaccination rate of any state — about 10% of the population has received at least one dose, according to reporting from the New York Times.
“It feels to us like we’re going slow, but we’re still doing a lot better than everybody else,” Sexton said. “It takes a lot of effort and a lot of people power. Some of these people are doing this every day, and on top of their normal workload.”
David Blossom, a pharmacist at Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, said Saturday that they have been hosting smaller-scale clinics about three times a week in conjunction with their normal operation. Blossom said that the workload fluctuates depending on the day, but the assistance is there if they need it.
“On some days, if we have a smaller amount of vaccine to give out, I or another pharmacist can run the day by ourselves,” Blossom said. “There’s been some other days where we’ve had Public Health nurses come in and assist us with the administration.”
Sexton said that the borough has put out a call for more volunteers in the health care profession who wish to assist in future vaccination efforts. Anyone who wishes to sign up can find the registration form at covid19.kpb.us.
In addition, the borough is operating a call center from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday through Friday. Anyone who is experiencing difficulties scheduling a vaccination appointment can call one of the following numbers to have someone assist them in the process.
Central peninsula: 907-262-4636