Nurse Linda Price gives Jim Blanning his Moderna COVID-19 booster shot at the “Y” intersection vaccine clinic on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Nurse Linda Price gives Jim Blanning his Moderna COVID-19 booster shot at the “Y” intersection vaccine clinic on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Vaccine clinic looks to expand as demand grows

The clinic, currently open between 4 and 8 p.m., has operated since May at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways in Soldotna.

This story has been updated.

The COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the “Y” intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways has seen an uptick of patients seeking shots in recent weeks.

Justin Ruffridge, the owner of Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, said he leased the space in the spring to start offering walk-in COVID vaccines. He said now as more groups receive eligibility, the clinic administered more shots.

“It has been busy,” Ruffridge said. “The booster shots have really added to the workload there.”

Kids ages 5 to 11 also just received approval from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to extend the emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after evidence from clinical trials showed the Pfizer shot was 91% effective in preventing COVID for kids in this age range.

As of 4:10 p.m. on Friday, Ruffridge confirmed that the “Y” clinic had received Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for the newly eligible group and was offering the shots on a walk-in basis starting Friday afternoon.

Ruffridge said it remains to be seen how the new authorization for kids will impact traffic in the clinic, but urges people on the peninsula to seriously consider getting their shots, especially high-risk individuals.

“I would highly encourage anybody with underlying conditions … to be as close to fully vaccinated as humanly possible,” he said.

The clinic received initial funding under the Alaska Department of Health and Social Service’s COVID-19 Community Funding Program, from which Soldotna received about $195,000. The City of Soldotna requested and received an additional $100,000 from DHSS that would allow the clinic to expand hours and staffing, according to a Sept. 28 memo from Assistant to the City Manager Laura Rhyner to Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen.

The clinic, currently open between 4 and 8 p.m., has operated since May with two primary staff and offers COVID-19 vaccines on a walk-in basis at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways in Soldotna, Rhyner wrote. In response to accelerated COVID spread caused by the delta variant, Rhyner wrote, the clinic has experienced “a marked increase in demand for vaccination.”

“Clinic administrators have expressed a willingness to expand staffing and operating hours at the clinic, to both keep up with current demand and prepare for the administration of booster shots to specific populations in the coming months,” Rhyner wrote.

Under the new agreement, the City of Soldotna would have access to around $295,000 available for reimbursement that could be spent any time before June 30, 2023. Rhyner said that while the city does not anticipate needing longer than June of 2023 to spend the money, the amendment offers flexibility if things change.

Queen wrote in a Sept. 15 letter to DHSS Division of Public Health Program Coordinator II Maria Caruso that the need for additional funds is seen in the increase in demand for vaccines. The clinic was administering about two to three times as many daily vaccine doses as compared to May and June, Queen wrote, with a line frequently formed prior to the clinic opening daily.

“The vaccine walk‐in clinic operates in a highly visible location, and removes barriers to access such as lack of computer access, inability to pre‐register for an appointment or attend on a pre‐arranged day and time, and inability to access other clinics at scheduled days and times,” Queen wrote. “The model has been very successful, and in recent weeks clinic staff have noted a marked increase in demand as the Delta variant surges across the state.”

The legislation up for consideration by the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday would allow Queen to execute an agreement with the state that would accept the funds. The council approved the introduction of that legislation during their Oct. 27 meeting, meaning it will be up for a public hearing and council vote on Nov. 10.

Ruffridge said that clinic staff members sometimes experience “intense” four-hour sessions, administering as many as 80 vaccines in a single shift. He said Soldotna Professional Pharmacy would fill out a request for more funds and then wait for approval if he felt it necessary — in order to vaccinate as many people who are willing to roll up their sleeves.

On Thursday afternoon, Debbie Aubin, a nurse working at the “Y” clinic, said they’ve seen a lot of people come in for their boosters recently, but not as many for their primary series.

“We’ve had maybe five (newly vaccinated patients) a day … but primarily it’s been the seniors and those who are in health care or teachers,” Aubin said.

She’s been working at the clinic since it opened in the spring.

“We never thought it would go this long, honestly,” Aubin said. “But I’m thrilled … that we have a great team able to do it.”

Jane Eveland, a licensed practical nurse at the clinic, said it’s been tough hearing about everyone, but especially unvaccinated people, dying of the virus when they’re trying to make shots as accessible as possible.

“It’s so heart-wrenching,” Eveland said. “The number of people that we’ve lost not only locally, but people will come in and their loved ones from the Lower 48 (are) really sick or they’ve lost them.”

She said she’s also heard from intensive care unit nurses that patients will ask for a vaccine once they’re already admitted.

“People that haven’t been vaccinated before they go on ventilators — they’re asking for the shots,” Eveland said. “It’s like, it’s too late.”

Ruffridge said not only is everyone suffering from the virus itself, but also from the fallouts of the pandemic. He said he sees a need for unity within the community.

“We really need each other and we need to continue to treat each other with kindness and respect,” Ruffridge said. That sense, he said, is “what keeps a lot of people here.”

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com. Ashlyn O’Hara can be reached at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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