A graph from the Department of Health and Social Service shows how each census region did in the “Sleeves Up for Summer” campaign, which sought to increase COVID-19 vaccinations by 25% in May 2021. (Photo provided)

A graph from the Department of Health and Social Service shows how each census region did in the “Sleeves Up for Summer” campaign, which sought to increase COVID-19 vaccinations by 25% in May 2021. (Photo provided)

State falls short of 25% vaccination goal

East Aluetians Borough only region to increase vaccinations by 25%

The state last week wrapped up its May vaccination campaign that aimed for a 25% increase in COVID-19 vaccinations in each census bureau.

In a press briefing with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on Thursday, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink presented the data from the May campaign.

The Aleutians East Borough was the only census area to increase by the goal.

“Big shoutout to Eastern Aleutians Borough for increasing vaccine rate in the month of May by 34% — this didn’t come easily,” she said. “In general, every borough increased their vaccine rates in the month of May.”

The Aleutians West Borough and Bristol Bay areas were the other two regions in the top three. In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the vaccination rate increased by 5.8% in the month of May.

The North Slope Borough, Haines Borough and Skagway Municipality were in the bottom three. Zink said the caveat to some of the boroughs that didn’t increase vaccinations by a wider margin was that they had high rates to begin with.

Statewide, approximately 33% of Alaskans across all ages were fully vaccinated by the end of April. By the end of May, that number jumped slightly to 38%, including the newly eligible 12 to 15 age group.

As of Thursday, 46% of Alaskans 12 and older were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 40% of eligible Alaskans were fully vaccinated and 44% had received at least one dose.

According to DHSS officials, there are currently eight boroughs that have greater than a 70% vaccination rate for people 12 and over.

Zink said there are about 1,000 new vaccinations per day.

“Sometimes it feels like this is going slow, but there are still a lot of people getting vaccinated,” she said.

The team reiterated that over 98% of COVID hospitalizations are of unvaccinated people.

State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said during Thursday’s press briefing that there is ongoing research about the chronic effects of COVID-19.

“I suspect this will continue to be an area where clinicians are going to be seeing lots of patients coming through in the months ahead dealing with long-COVID issues,” he said.

McLaughlin said he thinks medical personnel will see long-term ramifications of COVID in hospitals for the rest of this year and probably into next year.

New cases

The state announced 46 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday.

Alaska is on the brink of the low-alert level, which is categorized by having an average of between zero and five positive COVID cases per 100,000 people. The state reported 5.06 positive cases, and remains in the intermediate risk category. The Kenai Peninsula Borough dropped to low risk, only reporting an average of 3.5 cases per 100,000 on Thursday.

The new case count includes three on the Kenai Peninsula. Nikiski, Soldotna and Seward each reported one.

Alaska also saw 10 new cases in Anchorage, seven in both Juneau and Wasilla, five in Fairbanks, three in the Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area, two in Tok and one each in Chugiak, Delta Junction, Eagle River, Ketchikan, North Pole, Palmer and Wrangell.

There have been 1,572 resident hospitalizations and 362 resident deaths since the pandemic began, with three new hospitalizations and zero deaths reported on Thursday. According to DHSS, there are currently 20 COVID-related hospitalizations with six of the patients on ventilators.

Getting vaccinated

Anyone 12 and older traveling to and from Alaska is now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccines will be available for residents and travelers at the Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau airports.

During the briefing on Thursday, Teresa O’Connor, deputy director of the division of public health, said 380 people had already been vaccinated at the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage.

Additionally, multiple vaccination appointments in the borough were available as of Tuesday, according to PrepMod, the online portal through which appointments can be scheduled. PrepMod can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov.

These clinics include the Kenai Public Health Center, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy and the Nikiski Fire Department.

Vaccine appointments are also available through the Kenai Fire Department by calling 907-283-8270, and will be accessible weekly at the Soldotna Wednesday Market.

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 through alternative entities can be found on the map by clicking the icon of the preferred provider. Appointments at Walmart can be scheduled at walmart.com/covidvaccine.

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.

The City of Kenai is offering transportation to and from vaccine clinics located in Kenai in partnership with CARTS and Alaska Cab. 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. To schedule a ride, Alaska Cab can be reached at 907-283-6000 and CARTS can be reached at 907-262-8900.

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, Dena’ina Health Clinic, 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 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.

In Ninilchik, NTC Community Clinic is providing testing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from noon to 4 p.m. 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 Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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