Alaska receives first coronavirus vaccine shipments

The first vaccinations are expected to happen this week.

The first doses of the vaccine for the coronavirus pandemic, shown above, arrived in Anchorage on Dec. 13, 2020, and are due to begin being injected within days. (Courtesy Photo / Alaska Department of Health and Social Services)

The first doses of the vaccine for the coronavirus pandemic, shown above, arrived in Anchorage on Dec. 13, 2020, and are due to begin being injected within days. (Courtesy Photo / Alaska Department of Health and Social Services)

This story has been updated to include new information.

The first shipment of the coronavirus vaccine arrived in Alaska Sunday night, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced.

A cargo plane carrying more than 35,000 first-series doses arrived in Anchorage Sunday night, according to the state health department. Nearly a thousand of those are earmarked for Juneau.

“This is a big day for the nation. We’ve already seen the first people vaccinated,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, during a Zoom teleconference Monday. “It’s been really tremendous to see the science and data come together.”

The vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, American and German pharmaceutical companies, was authorized for emergency deployment by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday.

“Alaska’s Vaccine Task Force has been preparing for many months to receive these first shipments and to guarantee safe vaccine handling according to the vaccine’s unique requirements,” said Tessa Walker Linderman, co-lead of Alaska’s Vaccine Task Force, in the news release. “The task force, led by DHSS and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, continues to coordinate with diverse partners across the state on logistics. We’re ready and excited to begin.”

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The vaccines, which have to be kept refrigerated at -130 to -76 degrees, will be distributed based on a priority system. EMS and firefighters supporting medical services, frontline hospital and healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents and staff, including those with the Department of Corrections, community health aides, and those who will be vaccinating others.

In Juneau, this means first vaccinating many employees at Bartlett Regional Hospital, said BRH spokesperson Katie Bausler in a news release.

“We want our whole community of Bartlett protected because that helps us be safe,” said Gribbon,” said BRH’s infection prevention specialist Charlee Gribbon in the news release.

Other doses in Juneau will go to long-term care facilities and EMS workers, Bausler said.

“Logistics for this vaccine are more complicated than those for the annual flu vaccine. The vaccine comes in vials of 5 doses per vial, so the preparation to administration window is short,” Bausler said. “Bartlett pharmacy and infection prevention staff will closely monitor the process.”

The more than 35,000 doses includes nearly 12,000 doses allocated to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium for distribution to priority targets amongst the Alaska Native population.

State data show Alaska Native people have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“ANTHC appreciates the advocacy of the State to ensure Alaska is receiving all of our allocation at once,” said Andy Teuber, Chairman and President of ANTHC, in the news release. “Alaska Native Medical Center and our regional partners are ready to receive our allocations as quickly as possible so that we can get our front-line health care workers and our Elders protected as soon as possible.”

The doses received Sunday are the first in a series of two shots required to be taken three weeks apart, the news release said. Pfizer is holding the second dose to be shipped later, according to the release. Medical personnel are working to distribute the doses to the most critical recipients across Alaska, Linderman said.

“Our logistics team is working really hard to schedule all the flights, repackage the vaccine, and get it out the door to rural locations,” Linderman said.

More doses of the vaccine are expected soon, according to the state, including 26,800 doses when Moderna’s vaccine is hopefully approved by the FDA for distribution soon, Linderman said.

“Every community has different stories when it comes to vaccinations,” said Matthew Bobo, a state epidemiologist, during a Zoom teleconference Monday. “Any way we can get vaccines to individuals is how we’re going to work the system. There are snow machines, there are ATVs, there lots of different methods of transportation.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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