State health officials said during a press briefing on Thursday that although Alaska has seen a drop in positive COVID-19 infections, the state still has some work to do over the summer.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said the longer Alaskans climb the hill, the steeper it gets.
Zink emphasized that people who were eager to get vaccinated early came out in large numbers last winter, but now the state and nation are seeing a plateau in inoculation rates.
“That phase of this vaccination effort is over,” she said. “We are now looking at making sure that people have the information.”
Many of the people yet to get their shots are looking for convenience, the officials with the Department of Health and Social Services said.
Zink said just six months ago she didn’t think the state would have as much vaccine stock as it does now.
“We’re definitely seeing more supply than demand,” State Immunization Manager Matthew Bobo said on Thursday.
Zink presented data showing that Alaska is now at low risk in all categories: COVID-19 transmission rates, hospitalizations and test positivity.
Still, the officials said they hope to see more Alaskans choose to get their shots.
“These are not experimental vaccines at this point,” Zink said. “With over 304 million doses we would expect any small safety signals to arise at this point and we are not seeing them.”
DHSS officials also emphasized the importance of getting children vaccinated as soon as possible.
“For everyone I think it’s a risk-benefit decision to get vaccinated,” Zink said.
She cited a study that showed that 12- to 17-year-olds are more likely to be seriously impacted by COVID-19 than influenza.
Out of 204 adolescent hospitalizations studied, nearly one-third of the kids were admitted to the intensive care unit and 5% were placed on mechanical ventilation. None of the kids died.
As the next academic year nears in the fall, State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said he suspects to see an uptick in positive cases.
As of now, he said, Alaska is about 10 percentage points below the national vaccination average.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to kind of catch up with the rest of the nation,” he said.
Coleman Cutchins, a clinical pharmacist with the state, said he hopes people plan ahead to get their kids vaccinated before school starts in the fall.
There is a three-week interval between Pfizer doses and a two-week period after the second shot to be considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Keeping this timeline in mind, Cutchins said the latest a kid could get the first dose and be fully vaccinated by the first day of school would be in the first week of July.
“I really think we need to be working towards increased vaccine rates for fall now, because fall will be here before we know it,” he said.
Reach reporter Camille Botello at firstname.lastname@example.org.