A portable sign on the Sterling Highway advertises a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinaton booster clinic held 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at Homer High School in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

A portable sign on the Sterling Highway advertises a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinaton booster clinic held 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at Homer High School in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

What you need to know about boosters

COVID-19 vaccine eligibility explained

Health officials have emphasized that getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the most effective way to bring cases down and return to life as normal, but in an ever-changing pandemic keeping vaccine eligibility criteria straight can be challenging.

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink said during a press briefing last week that the first step is getting a first dose of any of the three COVID vaccines — Comirnaty Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen shot — approved by the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control.

“Our primary tool against this virus is that primary series,” Zink said. “So we can talk a lot about treatment and all sorts of other things, but our biggest tool is that primary series.”

Depending on the brand of vaccine, most of the population is eligible for the primary series.

The Pfizer vaccine was approved under an emergency use authorization (EUA) in early December 2020 for people 16 and older, and fully approved for people 16 and older in August 2021. Additionally, Pfizer received EUA approval for kids ages 12 through 15 years old in May 2021.

This means Pfizer is currently available to anyone 12 years and older and is the only COVID vaccine with full FDA approval for the 16 and older age group.

An EUA-approved drug or vaccine is when the FDA allows the use of unapproved medical products or uses of those products in an emergency situation when certain criteria have been met. According to the FDA, an example of EUA criteria include that there have been no approved medical alternatives.

Once a drug or vaccine receives full FDA approval, they are able to be marketed under brand names. Pfizer is marketed under the name Comirnaty.

According to the CDC, evidence from clinical trials show the Pfizer vaccine was 95% effective in preventing COVID for people 16 and older.

Just about a week after Pfizer was approved for emergency use, Moderna received FDA authorization in December 2020 for an EUA of its COVID vaccine for anyone 18 and older.

Moderna is currently available under emergency use for anyone 18 and older.

The CDC reports that the Moderna vaccine was 94.1% effective in preventing COVID for those 18 and older in clinical trials.

Similarly, the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine is also approved for emergency use in anyone 18 and older. It received FDA authorization for EUA use in February 2021.

The Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine is currently available under emergency use for anyone 18 and older. It is the only single-dose COVID vaccine on the market.

In clinical trials the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine was found to be 66.3% effective in preventing COVID for people 18 and older.

Additional COVID vaccine doses

In addition to the primary series vaccine eligibility requirements listed above, the FDA approved a third dose of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for emergency use in immunocompromised people in August 2021.

According to the FDA, the specific immunocompromised individuals include solid organ transplant recipients and people diagnosed with conditions that have an equivalent level of immunocompromise.

The FDA also grated approval for Pfizer booster doses in September 2021 for those 65 and older, as well as individuals 18 and older who are either considered at high risk for severe disease or who are frequently exposed to COVID either through work or other institutions.

Moderna and Johnson & Johnson will likely be approved for booster doses soon by the FDA, but they are not yet authorized. Pfizer is the only vaccine currently allowing booster doses.

Mixing COVID vaccine brands is also not currently approved by the FDA. For example, it is currently not recommended that someone with a primary Moderna series get a Pfizer booster shot.

Zink said already over 31,000 Alaskans have received a third dose.

“(It’s) so great to see many Alaskans choosing that,” she said.

Also potentially coming on the pharmaceutical intervention front is the FDA emergency use approval of the Pfizer vaccine in kids 5 to 11 years old, discussion of a COVID antiviral treatment, as well as authorization of mixing vaccine brands, the New York Times reported Monday.

Primary care providers can determine eligibility for an initial vaccine series, as well as immunocompromised third shots and booster doses.

Across the state, 59.1% of everyone 12 and up was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Friday. Another 64.2% had received at least one shot.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s vaccination rate continues to lag behind many other regions.

As of Friday, 49.4% of people 12 and older were fully vaccinated and another 53.4% had received at least one dose.

Since some Alaskans have received booster doses, the Department of Health and Social Services issued a disclaimer that vaccine rate data may be an overestimation.

Getting a vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines do not cost money.

As an incentive to get the shots, the DHSS and Alaska Chamber of Commerce launched a lottery program for newly vaccinated eligible residents that offers weekly winners a prize of at least $49,000. To find out the eligibility requirements or to enter into the giveaway sweepstakes, visit giveakashot.com. The lottery lasts through Oct. 30.

Many different organizations on the central peninsula, including pharmacies in Walmart, Walgreens, and the Kenai Fire Department 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 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.

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. Starting Sept. 14, 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 camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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