A health care worker holds a vial of Sotrovimab, a covid-19 monoclonal antibody treatment. (ice_blue/Shutterstock)

Officials report new COVID deaths, emphasize early treatment options

The state Department of Health and Social Services reported 27 more COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, pushing the total to 1,108 Alaska resident deaths since the pandemic began.

One of the new deaths, which are reported through death certificate review each Wednesday, was a Kenai Peninsula man in his 60s.

The newly reported deaths come on the back end of another COVID wave driven by the omicron variant of the coronavirus. Health officials said during a public science session Wednesday that nearly every single new COVID case in Alaska is now caused by the omicron strain, and even some by its new forms. The new omicron subvariants, BA.2 and B.1.1.529, or the “stealth” variants, are reportedly not much different from the original form of omicron.

The good news, health officials said Wednesday, is that COVID hospitalizations, deaths and new infections are on the downward slope.

“Our peak occurred later than in many other states,” State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said Wednesday. “And so we’re still seeing higher activity than in other states in general, but we’re definitely on a steep downward trajectory, which is great.”

There were a total of 104 COVID-related hospitalizations in Alaska as of Wednesday, with three of those patients on ventilators.

The state reported a two-day combined total of 863 new cases sequenced on Monday and Tuesday, down over 68% from last Wednesday, when the two-day total was 2,264 cases.

New cases reported Wednesday included 30 in Soldotna, 23 in Kenai, 17 in Homer, eight in Seward, five in the Kenai Peninsula Borough North, four in Anchor Point, three in Sterling, two in Nikiski, and one each in Fritz Creek and the Kenai Peninsula Borough South.

Health experts Wednesday emphasized the efficacy of federally approved COVID treatments, which have been proven to minimize virus symptoms on patients.

Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz, a staff physician with the state, said most of the treatments are used on high-risk patients.

“We really are at this point in this pandemic where we do have multiple treatment options available,” she said Wednesday. “And these are really for patients that have mild to moderate COVID, who are at increased risk, so older individuals and people with underlying conditions.”

Rabinowitz described each treatment:

Paxlovid, which is in limited supply, is an oral medication that halts viral replication when taken over a five-day period. Paxlovid is approved for anyone 12 years and older.

Sotrovimab, in limited supply, is an intravenous (IV) monoclonal antibody treatment that blocks viral entry. It requires one complete, on-site infusion. Sotrovimab is approved for anyone 12 years and older.

Remdesivir is an IV treatment that halts viral replication. The regimen requires three infusions over three days, and is currently available only in select hospital-associated infusion sites in the state. Remdesivir is available to people of all ages.

Molnupiravir, which is more widely available across Alaska, is an oral treatment that stops viral replication when taken over a five-day period. The treatment has a lower efficacy rate, and is not recommended for use on pregnant folks or some using contraception. It is approved for those 18 years and older.

Bebtelovimab, a monoclonal antibody treatment, was also recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use on those 12 and older. It requires one IV injection.

Rabinowitz emphasized that it’s important for people to get treated quickly for COVID if the case is severe enough.

“If you do have symptoms, it’s important to get tested right away so you can talk with your trusted health care professional and decide if you’re eligible for treatment and what treatment would be best for you,” she said.

However, Rabinowitz reiterated that COVID treatments are “not a substitute for vaccination.”

Officials widely agree getting vaccinated against COVID will help slow the spread and protect people from severe illness, hospitalization and death.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for everyone 5 years and older, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines are approved for anyone 18 and older.

In addition to a primary series — two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Janssen vaccine — experts are strongly encouraging booster shots to protect against omicron.

Rabinowitz said Wednesday that un-boosted folks are going to be much more vulnerable to contracting COVID, while even boosted people are going to see waning immunity after four months.

“We have had some decreased efficacy of our vaccines with this newest variant, so it really has been important to kind of watch what’s happening with our boosters,” she said. “We did get some data showing that after four months, we are starting to see a decrease in efficacy.”

Federal officials will be tracking international data, Rabinowitz said, to determine if another booster dose will be recommended “to bring our immunity levels back up.”

The FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending Pfizer boosters for anyone 12 and older at least five months after the primary series. Additionally, Moderna boosters are recommended for anyone 18 and older at least six months after a primary series.

Janssen boosters are approved for anyone 18 and older at least two months after initial vaccination, although DHSS officials say the Janssen shot isn’t the preferred vaccine because of risks of blood clotting and less robust protection against COVID. The state recommends people with a primary Janssen vaccine to get either a Pfizer or Moderna booster.

Getting a vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines do not cost money, and are available to people without health insurance. Many organizations on the central peninsula — including Walmart, Walgreens, the Kenai Fire Department and Kenai Public Health — offer vaccines.

Additionally, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy hosts a walk-in clinic in its strip mall storefront at the “Y” intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways. The clinic is open from noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Vaccination appointments can also be scheduled through the online portal PrepMod, which can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov.

A map of vaccine providers can be found on DHSS’ COVID-19 vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov.

People who would like assistance scheduling a vaccination appointment can call the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management call center. The center operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. 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.

Testing locations

Officials encourage anyone with symptoms to test for COVID-19, despite vaccination status.

In Kenai, testing is available at Odyssey Family Practice, Kenai Public Health Center and Capstone Clinic. At-home test kits are also available for free at Kenai Public Health.

In Soldotna, testing is available at the Peninsula Community Health Center, Urgent Care of Soldotna, Walgreens and Soldotna Professional Pharmacy.

In Homer, testing is available at South Peninsula Hospital, or through other area health care providers at Seldovia Village Tribe Health and Wellness, Kachemak Medical Group and Homer Medical Center. In Seward, testing is available at Providence Medical Center, Glacier Family Medicine, Seward Community Health Center and the Safeway pharmacy.

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

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