EMT Jason Tauriainen administers a COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday, Jan. 23 in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of the Nikiski Senior Center)

EMT Jason Tauriainen administers a COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday, Jan. 23 in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of the Nikiski Senior Center)

More people eligible to receive COVID vaccine

Alaska continues to lead the nation in vaccine rollout

More people in Alaska will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine, after the state expanded its eligibility criteria Wednesday.

People between the ages of 55 and 64, essential workers as defined, those who are at high-risk or may be at high-risk for severe COVID-19 illness, those who live in multigenerational households or people in underserved communities all now qualify to receive the vaccine.

The announcement from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on Wednesday came as Alaska continues to lead the nation in vaccine rollout, according to NPR’s COVID vaccine tracker. Alaska’s vaccine tracker estimates that about 21.8% of the population have received at least one dose. That’s compared to NPR’s estimate that 15.6% of people nationwide have received at least one vaccine dose. The next highest state after Alaska is New Mexico.

As of Wednesday, more than 150,000 Alaskans had received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine and more than 100,000 had already received both. About 53.9% of people 65 or older in the Kenai Peninsula Borough had received at least one dose as of Wednesday. That’s compared to the roughly 23.8% of people 16 or older in the borough who had received at least one dose.

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 10,480 pairs of vaccine had been allocated as of Wednesday.

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.

The City of Kenai is offering transportation to and from vaccine clinics located in Kenai in partnership with CARTS and Alaska Cab. The city council approved $5,000 for the program at their Jan. 20 meeting. 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.

In addition to the new groups added Wednesday, other people eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Alaska include most health care providers, pre-K through 12th grade education staff, people 65 or older, people 50 or older with certain high-risk medical conditions and pandemic response staff among others. People who help seniors 65 and older get vaccinated are also eligible to be vaccinated. Both the senior and the person helping need to schedule an appointment at the same location and time and the person assisting doesn’t need to meet other eligibility requirements to be vaccinated. People interested in receiving their COVID vaccine can determine whether or not they are eligible to receive it at covidvax.alaska.gov.

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.

Also on Wednesday, the state reported 189 new COVID-19 cases in Alaska, including 16 that were reported among nonresidents. Affected peninsula communities include Homer with three cases, Other North with two cases, Kenai with one case and Soldotna with one case.

The new cases bring the number reported statewide to date to 59,030, including 56,605 residents and 2,425 nonresidents. The state also reported one new death among a nonresident in the seafood industry in Aleutians East Borough, bringing the total number of deaths to 303 including residents and nonresidents.

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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