A registered nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at the pop-up clinic on the Spit on May 27. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)

A registered nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at the pop-up clinic on the Spit on May 27. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)

Officials: Best immunity is through vaccination

Although COVID infection produces antibodies that can help fight the virus, it’s risky to take that chance.

Health officials with the state Department of Health and Social Services Thursday urged Alaskans to gain COVID-19 immunity through approved vaccines — which they said dramatically decreases an individual’s chance of hospitalization and death — rather than through natural infection of the virus.

State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said that although COVID infection produces antibodies that can help fight the virus, it’s risky to take that chance.

“I want all Alaskans to know that this virus is going to be circulating in Alaska and across the globe for the foreseeable future, so the chances are exceedingly high that you will ultimately get infected at some point if you’re not vaccinated,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said that although some preliminary, non-peer-reviewed studies suggest immunity through natural infection may produce similar protection to a vaccine, other negative health effects can come from the disease.

“If you just allow natural infection to occur, you’re putting yourself at risk for lots of serious adverse health consequences, including hospitalization, ICU state and potentially death,” McLaughlin said.

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, patients were more at risk for various ailments after being infected with COVID than they were after receiving a vaccine. Some of the conditions that showed increased susceptibility after COVID infection included irregular heart rhythm, certain blood clots, bleeding in the brain and inflammation of the heart.

“Unfortunately, the risk of serious health problems associated with COVID-19 is considerable, as evidenced by the high rates of hospitalization that we’re currently seeing in Alaska and across the country,” McLaughlin said. “So please help us control the spread of COVID by getting vaccinated.”

On Thursday only about 55% of Alaskans 12 and older statewide were fully inoculated. That number decreases to 47% on the Kenai Peninsula.

The state also announced another 727 positive COVID cases Thursday, which included 53 on the peninsula. The whole state was categorized as high alert for transmission.

As an incentive to get the jab, the DHSS and Alaska Chamber of Commerce launched on Thursday a lottery program for newly vaccinated eligible residents that offers weekly winners a prize of at least $49,000. The incentive campaign is aimed at boosting the state vaccination rate by November before the delta variant takes more of a toll on individuals, businesses and the health care system, officials said.

The delta variant accounted for approximately 99% of sequenced COVID cases detected statewide, according to the latest state genomic sequencing report.

For more information about how to enter the incentive program, visit giveakashot.com.

COVID-19 vaccines do not cost money. To find a vaccine, visit vaccines.gov.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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