A nurse with Kenai Public Health encourages people to get their COVID-19 vaccines during the first day of the Wednesday Market in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)

A nurse with Kenai Public Health encourages people to get their COVID-19 vaccines during the first day of the Wednesday Market in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)

Wednesday Markets now include free walk-in vaccines

Dr. Anne Zink, chief medical officer for the state, made a trip to Soldotna on Wednesday as part of the “Sleeves Up for Summer” campaign.

Soldotna’s Wednesday Market kicked off the summer season with its usual food vendors, artisan stands and live music at Soldotna Creek Park. What’s new this year are COVID-19 vaccination clinics.

Kenai Public Health, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy and the Kenai Fire Department partnered with the City of Soldotna and the Alaska State Department of Health and Social Services to offer free vaccines to parkgoers as they perused the various food trucks and craftsman tables.

Dr. Anne Zink, chief medical officer for the state, made the trip to Soldotna for the event, which was part of the “Sleeves Up for Summer” campaign, to help encourage people in the borough to get their shots.

“We have a lot to do in Alaska,” she said on Wednesday. “We’ve got fish to catch and tourists to welcome and things to do, and the best way we can do that is to get vaccinated.”

Zink said she and other health care professionals were celebrating the “safe and efficacious” vaccines and the prospect of “putting this pandemic behind us.”

Andrea Hooper, a nurse with Kenai Public Health, was encouraging people to get their vaccines in the park on Wednesday as well. She said by around 2:30 p.m. she and her colleagues had already administered around 20 shots, including a few in the newly eligible 12- to 15-year-old age range.

Hooper said she’s also seen the new demographic get vaccinated at the in-house clinic.

“I think we’re having some buy-in from the parents for the kids,” she said. In her last clinic, she said around six out of 11 patients getting vaccinated were children between the ages of 12 and 15.

Zink said at the state level, just over 6,000 kids in the newly eligible age group had received their first Pfizer-BioNTech immunization as of Tuesday, which is the only one of the three approved for children.

The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen shots are available for anyone 18 years and older.

Zink also emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated to avoid any COVID-related chronic conditions.

“If you don’t get COVID you don’t get long COVID,” she said. “Particularly for our younger kids. … They tend to do well but still two out of three people will end up seeing their health care provider six months after getting COVID.”

As of Wednesday, more than half of Alaskans 12 and older — 52% — had received at least one vaccine dose, and 46% were fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 40% of people 12 and up were fully vaccinated.

“As people get the vaccine … I think it just helps,” Hooper said. “I think we’re on our way to getting some herd immunity maybe.”

Justin Ruffridge, a clinical pharmacist at Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, was also at the event promoting vaccines.

The pharmacy just opened its new walk-in clinic in the strip mall at the intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways in Soldotna, where free vaccines are administered every weeknight from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“We have more vaccine than ever before,” Ruffridge said. “They’re well supplied.”

He too said that a fair number of 12- to 15-year-olds have been vaccinated at the pharmacy’s clinics.

“That’s probably been 30%, 40% of what we’re doing is that age group,” Ruffridge said.

One of the primary goals of the walk-in clinic is to remove any obstacles peninsula residents face when trying to get vaccinated.

“I think the appointments and the internet and all of those things, taking that barrier away and saying, ‘Here’s a pen and a piece of paper, you know what to do,’ people are a lot more comfortable with that,” Ruffridge said.

Kenai Fire Chief Tony Prior said the clinics have been making progress vaccinating as many people who are willing to get the shots.

“I think we’re just slowly making progress,” he said. “We just want to encourage everybody to take the time to research it and find out if it’s right for them.”

He and two other fire officials were at the park on Wednesday immunizing people in their mobile vaccine unit.

The Kenai Fire Department and Kenai Public Health will take turns administering vaccines at the Soldotna Wednesday Market for the remainder of the summer. Prior said the Fire Department will be hosting clinics at the Kenai Saturday Market as well.

Out of 11 Alaska regions, the Kenai Peninsula Borough ranks No. 9 in vaccine rollout at 40%. The Juneau Region leads the state with a 66% vaccination rate for those 12 and older, according to data updated on Wednesday.

Zink said her goal is for everyone to have accurate information about the COVID-19 vaccines, so they can feel comfortable getting immunized.

“I wouldn’t recommend anything to Alaskans I wouldn’t do myself,” she said.

Zink said as more people get their shots, the borough and state can be up and running again.

“[We] wish everyone down in Kenai and Soldotna a fantastic summer,” she said.

New cases

DHSS announced 68 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. Alaska remains at the intermediate alert level — categorized by having an average of between 4.8 and 10 positive COVID cases per 100,000 people — at 7.78 positive cases.

The new case count only included one, reported in Kenai, on the central peninsula.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough also remains in the intermediate alert division, reporting an average of 5.58 cases on Wednesday. The Northwest region is the lowest risk of all 11 census regions, with only 2.37 cases per 100,000 people.

Alaska also saw 17 new cases in Anchorage, eight in Tok, seven in Ketchikan, six in Fairbanks, five in Kodiak, three in both Sitka and Wasilla, two each in Bethel, Juneau, Yakutat plus Hoonah-Angoon, and an unknown location, at one each in the Bethel Census Area, the Chugach Census Area, Delta Junction, North Pole, Palmer, Petersburg, the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area and Willow.

There have been 1,555 resident hospitalizations and 362 resident deaths since the pandemic began, with two new hospitalizations and zero new deaths reported on Wednesday. According to the DHSS, there are currently 16 COVID-related hospitalizations with two of the patients on ventilators.

Getting vaccinated

Multiple vaccination appointments 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 and the Nikiski Fire Department.

Vaccine appointments are also available through the Kenai Fire Department by calling 907-283-8270.

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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