The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday endorsed the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15, according to a press release from the Alaska State Department of Health and Social Services.
This comes two days after the Food and Drug Administration recommended it for emergency use on youth 12-15 years old. The Pfizer vaccine will be available to Alaskans ages 12 and up effective immediately.
The other COVID vaccines approved for emergency use in the U.S. — the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen shots — are still only available to those 18 and older.
“We’ve been waiting for this day and are excited to begin protecting younger Alaskans against COVID-19,” Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink said in the release. “The authorization and approval of this vaccine for children age 12 to 15 will help keep our children from missing out on school, activities, camps and spending time with friends and family, which is so important for their growth and socialization.”
Guardians must sign a consent form for their kids to be able to get the Pfizer shot, but don’t necessarily have to be present for the appointment.
“Right now we feel that it’s a very good thing and a step forward to making communities safer,” said Dan Nelson, the emergency manager at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management.
According to the DHSS press release, schools in Wasilla, Talkeetna, Ketchikan and Juneau are already planning to host youth vaccine clinics.
Nelson said on Wednesday that his office has been communicating with different vaccine clinics, pharmacies and schools across the borough in the hopes of extending Pfizer vaccine rollout efforts to the new eligible population.
“It’s always been our goal to make it … as convenient and accessible as possible,” he said.
Additionally, the Kenai Peninsula Borough is set to receive over $2 million from the state — via the CDC — for the purposes of vaccination and testing equity, Nelson said on Wednesday. More funds will be allocated to different cities across the borough, in an effort to make services accessible to people in remote locations or marginalized communities.
“There will be a large focus on those populations,” Nelson said.
State officials reported two new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday — two Fairbanks men over 70. This brings the statewide fatalities to 347 since the pandemic began.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services also announced six new hospitalizations, bringing the total to 1,525 since the beginning of the outbreak. As of Wednesday, there were 42 total COVID-related hospitalizations in Alaska, with two of the patients on ventilators.
Additionally, the state saw 84 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. Alaska remains at high-alert level with about 13.9 positive cases per 100,000 people.
The new case count includes seven on the Kenai Peninsula. Kenai reported four, and Homer, Seward and Soldotna each reported one.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough remains among six census areas in the intermediate risk division, which is categorized by having between 4.8 and 10 positive COVID cases per 100,000 people. The borough reported an average of 8.12 cases, which is down from Tuesday.
The Southwest region has the lowest risk of all 11 census regions, with only 3.74 cases per 100,000 people.
Alaska also saw 17 new cases in Anchorage, 14 in Fairbanks, 11 in Ketchikan, nine in Palmer, five each in Juneau, North Pole and Wasilla, two each in Eagle River, Kodiak and Utqiagvik, and one each in the Bethel Census Area, Chugiak, Delta Junction and the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area.
Slightly over half of Alaskans 16 and older — 52.4% — had received at least one vaccine dose as of Wednesday, and 46.6% were fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 43.9% of people 16 and up had received at least their first shot, and 40.2% of eligible peninsula residents were fully vaccinated. Almost two-thirds of the borough’s seniors — 63.9% — were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday.
The DHSS vaccination percentage data has not yet been modified to include 12- to 15-year-olds.
Out of 11 Alaska regions, the Kenai Peninsula Borough ranks No. 9 in vaccine rollout at 40.2%, according to state data updated on Wednesday. The Juneau Region leads the state with a 67.6% vaccination rate for those 16 and older.
Alaska is No. 20 in the country for percent of the population vaccinated, according to NPR on Wednesday. The U.S. ranks No. 11 nationwide, according to CNN.
More than 450 COVID-19 vaccination appointments were available across multiple central peninsula clinics as of Tuesday, according to PrepMod, the online portal through which appointments can be scheduled. PrepMod can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov.
These include the Kenai Public Health Center, Nikiski Fire Department and the Soldotna Professional Pharmacy at Soldotna Prep School, CES Kasilof and the Sterling Community Center.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said during a press briefing on Monday that guardians can start making vaccine appointments for their kids ages 12 to 15 starting on Wednesday afternoon.
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 email@example.com.