After the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced Wednesday that pre-K through 12th grade teachers would become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District said they would offer vaccine clinics specifically for district staff.
Teachers were one of several groups to become newly eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine with the opening of Phase 1b Tier 2. Other groups include Alaskans 50 and older who have certain high-risk medical conditions, front-line essential workers who work within 6 feet of others and people living or working in some congregate settings. Education staff eligible under the new tier include pre-K through 12 grade educators and support staff — such as custodial, food service and transportation workers, child care workers and support staff and Indigenous language and culture bearers.
KPBSD Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff said Wednesday that the district’s nursing supervisor, Iris Wertz, has been “consistent” in communicating with DHSS that school staff should be a high priority for vaccinations. State officials have been asked several times when teachers would become eligible, however, they have maintained that vaccinating seniors was their top priority. That effort was initially estimated to take until the end of February.
“We work closely with the KPB Office of Emergency Management and also communicate this concern from staff who want the vaccine as soon as possible, especially with the on-site at-school option open for all grades now,” Erkeneff said.
Students in every grade level were allowed to resume on-site learning five days a week on Feb. 1 at all district schools in response to low rates of community COVID transmission.
Erkeneff also said Wertz is working with the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management and other regional facilities to provide COVID vaccination clinics specifically for district staff in the peninsula’s central, eastern and southern regions. Clinic dates and times had not been set as of Wednesday, but an announcement and a registration link will be coming “very soon,” Erkeneff said. School nurses will assist with vaccine administration at district clinics. KPBSD appointments will be offered through a separate scheduling program than the state’s, though Erkeneff said district staff can still schedule appointments through the state if they want.
KPBSD staff will not be required to receive the vaccine, Erkeneff said. Both Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna’s COVID vaccines are more than 90% effective and require two doses to be fully effective. Erkeneff also said that the district has not been tracking how many staff have been vaccinated, but that “some” already have under the state’s existing eligibility tiers.
The district solicited feedback from staff in December to see how many people would be interested in receiving the vaccine as a way to gauge how many doses may be needed for staff and so the district knew whom to call if local clinics had extra vaccine that could be used for teachers.
As of Monday, 26 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico had made some or all teachers eligible to receive the COVID vaccine, according to a report from Education Week.
For the months of December, January and February, Alaska received an allocation of 174,400 pairs of vaccine, or 348,800 total doses including first and second doses. As of Wednesday, 162,270 doses had already been administered, including 114,117 initial doses and 48,153 second doses, though those numbers are expected to be higher due to a lag in reporting. According to the state’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard, 10,178 doses had been administered in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, including 7,620 initial doses and 2,558 second doses.
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 email@example.com.