As COVID-19 vaccination distribution continues to expand, the preventative measure is beginning to reach subsets of the population beyond critical healthcare workers.
“We’re working through the sequencing to make sure that we’re taking care of our most vulnerable,” said Maegen Bosak, director of marketing and communications with the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, which oversaw the distribution and administration of some vaccines around the Southeast. “It’s been a major priority from our leaders to make sure the smaller communities have access to the vaccine just like Juneau or Sitka would.”
Arsenio “Pastor” Credo, 74, received the vaccine quickly under the auspices of SEARHC, getting vaccinated on Dec. 24.
“I want to let my people know, let the community know that this shot is OK,” Credo said during an interview. “The president-elect got it. Dr. (Anthony) Fauci got it. My friends got it, and they’re OK. I want people to know it’s OK.”
For Credo, a Marine veteran, getting vaccinations isn’t new. The Department of Defense has a mandatory battery of vaccinations for all entrants to the armed services and before deployments.
“I remember (Vietnam), we had 18 shots before going over,” Credo said after receiving his COVID-19 vaccine. “With the flu shot, I didn’t feel it. This was about the same.”
SEARHC is working hard to distribute the vaccine across the region by any means necessary, rapidly clearing the priority recipients in some of those communities and moving on to next levels of recipients since their initial allotment on Dec. 16, Bosak said. Bosak encouraged all SEARHC clients to register online to receive the vaccine with the organization, which will then notify them when an appointment opens up. Bosak also suggested contacting SEARHC at 907-966-8799 if there were any questions about the form or vaccine eligibility.
“We went by commercial air. We went by floatplane. We went by catamaran to distribute to our communities,” Bosak said. “We are following a similar sequence to guidance from the CDC and the Alaska Vaccine Allocation Advisory Committee.”
More than 12,000 doses have been distributed to Alaskans, according to Tessa Walker Linderman, co-lead of Alaska’s Vaccine Task Force.
The Alaska Vaccine Allocation Advisory Committee took comments Monday on Phase 1B of vaccine distribtuon. That phase would include people 75 and older as well as front-line essential workers, according to the state.
“It’s a pretty easy shot to give,” said Courtney Taber, charge nurse at SEARHC who administered the vaccine to Credo. “A lot of people are coming in that haven’t been in in a long time. They’re saying it’s giving them hope.”
While SEARHC distributes its allocation of vaccines to its clients, other organizations including long term care facilities are looking forward to vaccinating their residents.
“It (vaccination) has been moved to the week of Jan. 14. Safeway Pharmacy will be providing the vaccine,” said Gina Del Rosario, administrator of the Juneau Pioneer Home. “The shipping, the staffing and the vaccine storage played into that schedule.”
The residence is going on its ninth month of no visitors whatsoever, Del Rosario said, to minimize risk of spread among the high-risk population. Vaccine administration might allow them to ease some restrictions slightly, allowing family members to visit during certain hours. Del Rosario said they’re currently working on a number of contingencies.
“We recognize that the need to connect families together is high. Opening the doors again when family members can come and visit anytime during the day or afternoon, we look forward to going to that sort of visitation in the future,” Del Rosario said. “Washing, masks, some social distancing will still need to be in place until we know the second dose is completed.”
Most residents have already filled out their consent forms to get the vaccine, Del Rosario said, though some have some concerns.
“We’re waiting for more consent forms to come back since we can’t administer the vaccine until we have a consent form from them,” Del Rosario said. “We have a couple that are really looking into the vaccine and what’s in it. They say they’ll make their decision closer to Jan. 14.”
The Pioneer Home is currently working on a contingency for residents who choose not to get vaccinated, Del Rosario said.
The future of distribution
The state’s public health section doesn’t have information on when and how many vaccines will come to Alaska next, said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink during a media event Monday.
“We don’t know how much we’re getting in next week,” said Zink. “The team is working at lightning speed to get that and turn it back around.”
Even as more vaccines arrive for Alaska’s most critical and vulnerable, the state is looking at other options it can leverage to maximize safety for the most Alaskans. Schools are one of the biggest areas that will soon become important: keeping teachers and students safe and from becoming conflagrations of infection.
“While this vaccine does reduce the risk of getting seriously ill, we don’t yet know its effect on transmission,” Zink said. “And many of those kids won’t be vaccinated for a long, long time.”
The best tools, Zink said, are the ones everyone should continue to practice, vaccinated or not — distancing, masks, frequent handwashing, and keeping social circles tight.
“Once people get the vaccine, we’re going to ask you to continue distancing, to continue wearing a mask,” said Dr. Liz Ohlsen, the sata public health physician. “We want people to do the things we know reduce the transmission.”
Other organizations, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs or the Department of Defense may make vaccines available for certain groups of Alaska residents, Zink said, but that information is not yet confirmed.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.