In this Sept. 27, 2019, file photo, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a news conference in Anchorage, Alaska. Dunleavy on Tuesday, March 9, 2021, announced that the COVID-19 vaccine is available for all individuals who live or work in Alaska and are age 16 and older, making Alaska the first state in the nation to remove eligibility requirements. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

In this Sept. 27, 2019, file photo, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a news conference in Anchorage, Alaska. Dunleavy on Tuesday, March 9, 2021, announced that the COVID-19 vaccine is available for all individuals who live or work in Alaska and are age 16 and older, making Alaska the first state in the nation to remove eligibility requirements. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Opinion: The end is in sight

Vaccination comes as a welcome opportunity to return to normalcy.

By Gov. Mike Dunleavy

Tuesday night, I announced that COVID-19 vaccines are now available to any Alaskan who wants one.

While seniors and our most vulnerable will continue to be prioritized, our vaccination infrastructure has grown tremendously over the past month. Many smaller communities have already fully opened their eligibility criteria, and the arrival of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a major boost to our supply chain.

I encourage all Alaskans to visit covidvax.alaska.gov to sign up for one of the three available COVID-19 vaccinations. Those who need a helping hand or lack internet services can call 1-907-646-3322 to speak to a live operator.

This historic step is yet another nationwide first for Alaska, but it should come as no surprise. Since day one, your response to the pandemic has been hands-down the best in the nation. While some claim we’ve simply been lucky, it’s clear they’re not students of history.

Preventing a repeat of the tragedy that struck Alaska a century ago was never a foregone conclusion. In fact, the effort to protect rural Alaska was unprecedented in modern history. When no one else could produce sufficient testing supplies, Alaska was standing up rural testing hubs and a first-in-the-nation entry testing program.

Our resource extractors and commercial fishing fleets went to extraordinary lengths to prevent community transmission. With the help of local and state partners, they successfully protected both our economy and some of the most vulnerable communities in Alaska.

We did all this while maintaining our reputation as one of the freest people in the world. As governors around the country announced reopenings and the end of mask mandates last week, Alaska was notably absent. That’s because I never issued such a mandate, and instead relied on your voluntary cooperation and willingness to protect the vulnerable.

As early as April 2020, we began the process of reopening. We showed the world that individual Alaskans, not overbearing governments, are the best vanguards of our own health and well-being. Where local restrictions did exist, they were enacted by the elected leaders closest to the people.

Ultimately, I couldn’t be prouder of Alaska’s response. From being the first state to offer widespread testing, to maintaining the third-lowest mortality rate in the country, to rolling out vaccinations to every willing Alaskan, we got here by working together.

Now it’s time to make the final push. With over 310 million shots administered worldwide, the safety and efficacy of available vaccines has been well established. All three provide excellent protection against severe COVID infections.

That said, I want to be clear that I will never mandate that any Alaskan receive an emergency vaccine. While the initial safety data is overwhelmingly in favor of vaccination, this is a choice that must be made individually.

But for the many Alaskans who have voluntarily given up going to the movies, visiting friends, and traveling around our state, vaccination comes as a welcome opportunity to return to normalcy. Regions like Kodiak Island, the Petersburg Borough, and the Kusilvak Census Area are rapidly nearing or exceeding 90% vaccination rates among seniors. In the Nome Census Area, over 60% of eligible residents have received at least one shot, and statewide, around 291,000 doses have been administered.

In a year that’s been notable for a great shortage of hope, this news couldn’t come soon enough. With the end finally in sight, I truly believe Alaska has a real chance to come out of this pandemic stronger; to emerge with a renewed focus on building a self-sufficient sovereign capable of weathering any 21st century storm.

But first, let’s not waste our shot to finish strong. If you’re ready and willing to receive a vaccine, head over to covidvax.alaska.gov and sign up today. With your help, I’m confident Alaska will continue to lead our nation out of this pandemic.

Mike Dunleavy is the 12th governor of Alaska.

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