This story has been updated.
Kenai Peninsula Borough health officials are preparing to give COVID vaccinations to a newly eligible population of Alaskans — kids ages 5 to 11 — in the coming days.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave its final approval to extend the emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to the 5 to 11 age group Tuesday, after evidence from clinical trials showed the Pfizer shot was 91% effective in preventing COVID for kids in this age range.
Tami Marsters, a nurse at Kenai Public Health, confirmed Thursday afternoon that the clinic will start vaccinating the 5 to 11 age group on Friday, Nov. 5, by appointment.
She said guardians can schedule through the PrepMod portal at myhealth.alaska.gov, or by calling Kenai Public Health at 907-335-3400.
For a few other peninsula clinics, though, it’s still a little too early to get shots into arms.
Albi Tatum, the clinic manager at the Seward Community Health Center, said the facility is planning to start the rollout on Nov. 9.
“We’re excited to get this population covered,” she said Wednesday. “I’ve been assured that (vaccines) will be here by the end of the week.”
Tatum said the Seward clinic is registered as a COVID vaccine provider with the state, which has expedited the process of dose acquisition. She confirmed Wednesday that the facility was allocated doses even though the state will only initially get a limited supply.
The Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11 is a different dosage than the shot for those 12 and older.
Tatum said when the EUA was extended to the 12- to 15-year-old category that there wasn’t an immediate spike in vaccines at the Seward clinic, since health care providers and families seem generally more hesitant to vaccinate children than adults.
“We didn’t see a huge increase in numbers; it’s kind of a slow trickle,” she said.
Tatum advised anyone with questions about the newly eligible age group to consult with a pediatrician or other health care provider.
As of Wednesday, approximately 51% of people in Seward were fully vaccinated against COVID, she said.
Appointments to receive the Pfizer vaccine for the newly eligible age group at the Seward Community Health Center can be made by calling 907-224-2273. Vaccines will be administered by appointment only.
Additionally, South Peninsula Hospital will be hosting a vaccine clinic for the new age group on Saturday.
The Homer News reported that a limited number appointments can now be made for children 5 to 11 years old for the Saturday clinic at Homer High School. The hospital has 300 doses allocated. Appointment times start at 9 a.m. and can be made at www.sphosp.org.
Lorne Carroll, a public health nurse III with Homer Public Health, said the clinic received 100 pediatric Pfizer doses on Tuesday afternoon, and are currently waiting for the official medical directive from the state before they begin rollout.
Carroll said any inch forward is progress, which he said is pretty exciting.
“It’s another step,” he said. “Immunization is an individual choice but it’s also a public health intervention.”
Once the facility gets the directive, Carroll said they will begin vaccinating kids 5 to 11 years old by appointment. Homer Public Health can be reached at 907-235-8857.
Justin Ruffridge, the owner of Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, said Wednesday he thinks the Pfizer vials for the newly eligible age group will arrive sometime this week, but he’s not sure of the specific date.
The pharmacy’s COVID vaccine clinic at the strip mall at the “Y” intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways has been busy, Ruffridge said. With more of the population eligible for the shot, he said it remains to be seen how rollout will be impacted.
The Soldotna Professional Pharmacy COVID clinic at the “Y” is currently open weekdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. for walk-in appointments. The pharmacy can be reached at 907-262-3800.
Similarly, the Kenai Fire Department, which has been offering COVID vaccines at the station and for home visits through its mobile clinic, is also waiting on state guidance.
Rebecca Matthews, the administrative assistant II at the fire department, said she’s been scheduling vaccines for community members. She said there is generally a bit of delay for regulations to get passed down from the federal to local level.
“No matter what, we will follow protocol,” Matthews said Wednesday.
For pre-approved age groups, COVID vaccines are still available through the fire department by appointment. Since each vial contains numerous doses, Matthews said she generally only schedules appointments for multiple people at a time so doses aren’t wasted.
Homebound people or people in groups can also still request a home vaccination.
Reach the Kenai Fire Department at 907-283-7666.
As of Wednesday, 60.5% of Alaskans 12 and older were fully vaccinated against COVID, with another 65.4% at least one shot into their series.
In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 50.6% were fully vaccinated and 54.5% had received at least one dose. The peninsula ranks ninth out of 11 boroughs for COVID vaccine coverage.
New deaths, hospitalizations and cases
The state announced three more COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, including a Soldotna man in his 60s.
Wednesday’s new COVID deaths have contributed to the 711 total in the state and over 749,000 nationwide according to the New York Times. The number of people who have died of COVID in the United States now exceeds the entire population of the state of Alaska, which was 733,391 according to the 2020 census.
Alaska remained at a high alert level Wednesday — with an estimated rolling average of 588.7 cases per 100,000 people across the state cumulatively over the past seven days.
The threshold for high alert level is 100 or more cases per 100,000 people in the span of one week. The state has surpassed that metric more than five times over.
There were also another 668 statewide cases reported Wednesday.
Locally, that included 13 in Soldotna, 11 in Kenai, seven in Homer, three in both Anchor Point and the Kenai Peninsula Borough South, two each in Fritz Creek and Seward, and one in Sterling.
Statewide there were 200 COVID-related hospitalizations as of Wednesday, with 39 of the patients on ventilators.
At Central Peninsula Hospital there were 19 COVID patients on Wednesday morning — 18 of them unvaccinated — with six in the intensive care unit and two on ventilators. The hospital as a whole was operating at 127% capacity with 62 total patients. The facility only has 49 regularly-licensed beds.
Getting a vaccine
COVID-19 vaccines do not cost money.
Many different organizations on the central peninsula, including pharmacies in Walmart, Walgreens, the Kenai Fire Department and Kenai Public Health, offer vaccines. They are also available for both residents and visitors at airports in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks.
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 Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
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 with 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.
COVID testing locations
Officials encourage anyone with symptoms to test for COVID-19, despite vaccination status.
In Kenai, testing is available at the Chignik Lagoon Clinic, Odyssey Family Practice, Kenai Public Health Center and Capstone Clinic.
In Soldotna, testing is available at the Peninsula Community Health Center, Urgent Care of Soldotna, Walgreens and Soldotna Professional Pharmacy.
In Seward, testing is available at Providence Medical Center, Chugachmiut-North Star Health Clinic, Glacier Family Medicine, Seward Community Health Center and the Safeway pharmacy. The Seward Community Health Center is offering drive-thru testing Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
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.
Reach reporter Camille Botello at firstname.lastname@example.org.