A vial of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is seen at Central Emergency Services Station 1 on Friday, Dec. 18 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

A vial of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is seen at Central Emergency Services Station 1 on Friday, Dec. 18 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Scheduling system prompts confusion in vaccine rollout

Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink took to Twitter to clarify some of the confusion surrounding the scheduling process.

A sluggish vaccine rollout in states across the country is, in Alaska, being exacerbated by a confusing scheduling system. As of Jan. 6, 5.3 million people had received their first dose of the 17 million distributed so far nationwide. In Alaska, that number isn’t much better. As of Jan. 8, 25,058 of the 114,800 doses Alaska was allocated for the months of December 2020 and January 2021 had been administered statewide.

The state recently opened vaccine eligibility to Alaskans who are 65 and older, a move that came earlier than expected. But the process of actually scheduling an appointment to get vaccinated has caused some confusion.

People eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine who want to schedule an appointment should navigate to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov. From there, users can access an interactive map showing the location of providers offering the vaccine throughout the state.

Once someone finds the location where they would like to be vaccinated, they should visit myhealth.alaska.gov and search for the provider to schedule an appointment online. If the provider cannot be found, it may be because they are not using the state’s scheduling portal. In that case, people should return to the provider on the interactive map and see if there are other instructions on how to schedule an appointment, such as calling the provider or scheduling through a different portal.

Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink took to Twitter to clarify some of the confusion surrounding the scheduling process.

“I am sorry for the challenges many of you experienced with scheduling vaccination appointments today,” Zink tweeted on Wednesday. “More appointments and large events come online everyday. We are 100% committed to improving the process and getting a vaccine out as fast as we can.”

In a Twitter thread on Thursday, Zink said that the COVID-19 vaccination appointment finder linked on covidvax.alaska.gov only links you to a map of places throughout the state that are offering the vaccine to the public. Some of the sites opted to use the “state-supported scheduling system,” called PrepMod, which is accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov.

“Once you start to make an appointment, the waitlist, the confirmation emails, the times and locations are determined by that site,” Zink said.

Sites on the peninsula offering the COVID-19 vaccine differ in how they schedule appointments. Some use the state’s PrepMod portal, while others do not. Site-specific scheduling instructions can be found below.

Soldotna Professional Pharmacy

Soldotna Professional Pharmacy owner Justin Ruffridge said Friday that one of the advantages of using the state’s PrepMod portal is that it makes the scheduling process “neat and tidy.” Problems arise, however, when hundreds of people are vying for the same limited spots.

“Our appointments booked in 24 minutes when they first went live,” Ruffridge said. “Then our phone system didn’t work for close to five hours due to the volume of phone calls that we received.”

Ruffridge said that the pharmacy is hoping to open a large clinic in the future and asked people to be patient in the meantime.

“We’re going to get at it as soon as we can and get a bunch of vaccine out there,” Ruffridge said. “People are working on it.”

Appointments at Soldotna Professional Pharmacy can be scheduled via the state registration portal at myhealth.alaska.gov, clicking “find a vaccination clinic,” and entering “Soldotna” in the box labeled “Search by Name of Location.” Doing so will show appointments, if available, for each day offered.

According to a post on the pharmacy’s Facebook page, they are hoping to open more clinics upon the arrival of more vaccines. A PDF with detailed instructions on how to schedule an appointment at Soldotna Professional Pharmacy can also be found on the pharmacy’s website.

Peninsula Community Health Services

According to Peninsula Community Health Services’ COVID-19 vaccine webpage, they offer vaccine clinics every Tuesday and Thursday by appointment only. The page says that there is no cost to receive the vaccine, but patients must complete a registration packet, which can be accessed online, prior to their appointment. The page directs eligible individuals interested in receiving the vaccine to call 907-262-3119.

Fred Meyer (Soldotna)

Appointments at the Soldotna Fred Meyer can be scheduled by navigating to the state registration portal at myhealth.alaska.gov, clicking “find a vaccination clinic,” and entering “Fred Meyers Pharmacy #017” in the box labeled “Search by Name of Location.” Doing so will show appointments, if available, for each day offered.

The pharmacy said Friday that all of their vaccine clinics are fully booked and that clinics planned for next month will target second dose administration for people who have already received the first dose. It is possible for an appointment to open up if someone cancels.

Who can receive the COVID-19 vaccine right now?

In determining who is able to get the COVID vaccine and when, the state considers recommendations from the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Vaccine allocation is divided into three phases.

Those phases are divided into sub-phases. Those sub-phases are then divided further into tiers. Front-line health care workers, along with residents and staff of long-term care facilities were given first priority in Phase 1a, Tier 1.

Phase 1a, Tier 2 includes front-line EMS and Fire Service personnel frequently exposed to COVID-19 patients, community health aides/practitioners and health care workers providing vaccinations. Vaccinations for people in Phase 1a, Tiers 1 and 2 began on Dec. 15.

Phase 1a, Tier 3 includes workers in health care settings who are at highest risk of contracting COVID-19 and who are essential to the health care infrastructure who meet specific criteria outlined by the state. Vaccinations for people in Phase 1a, Tier 3 began on Jan. 4.

People in Phase 1b Tier 1, meaning Alaskans who are 65 and older, were able to schedule appointments for Jan. 11 on Wednesday at noon.

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 ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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