Sandi Eldridge, pharmacist for the Department of Veterans Affairs, draws a dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine on March 13, 2021. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire file)

Sandi Eldridge, pharmacist for the Department of Veterans Affairs, draws a dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine on March 13, 2021. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire file)

Vax to the future: City, state look at next steps for vaccines

The state is ready if boosters for the vaccine are necessary.

While the possibility of boosters for COVID-19 vaccines exists, state and city health organizations aren’t concerned about the distribution.

“We’ve been hearing from the federal government to be ready and prepared,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, in a news conference. “But we have an amazing immunization team who does immunization all the time.”

Alaska currently has more than 320,000 residents who have received their first dose, Zink said. A requirement for a booster, either to maintain the efficacy of the vaccine or as a follow-on to enhance its effectiveness against coronavirus variants, would be handled through regular channels, said Matthew Bobo, the state’s immunization program manager.

“If a booster dose happens, we’ll use the logistical channels we have with our providers to get those doses out,” Bobo said during the news conference. “We’ll use our day-to-day channels.”

[Gov proposes land exchange for Vietnam-era Alaska Native veterans]

The necessity for boosters will depend on how long the vaccine remains effective and how effective it is against potential variants, said Robert Barr, the emergency operations center planning chief for the City and Borough of Juneau in a phone interview.

“We’re still really waiting for more information on that. We still don’t really know how long the vaccines will last for,” Barr said. “They’re certainly more effective than flu vaccines. Flu vaccines begin to waver after three months or so.”

Barr said they’ll trust the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for guidance on the issue as they consider how best to execute.

“We’re going to look to the CDC and assess,” Barr said. “I would speculate at this point that if a booster did become necessary, we’d do a couple of large clinics.”

Drive-thru clinics are efficient ways to get shots in arms, Barr said, including the more than 1,300 Juneau residents who were vaccinated at last October’s flu shot clinic.

“We have a really powerful tool against this virus but we’re unfortunately still seeing really young people get sick and die,” Zink said.

In the meantime, public health officials in Juneau are standing by for word from the CDC that it’s OK to administer the Pfizer vaccine to children between 12-16, Barr said.

On Thursday, SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium encouraged everyone 12 and older to register to be vaccinated, saying they anticipated approval of the Pfizer vaccine for that age group to be forthcoming shortly.

The decision is anticipated to be coming shortly, both Barr and Zink said.

Officials will look to rapidly carry out vaccine clinics at high schools and middle schools to vaccinate eligible students before the end of the school year, Barr said.

“We are highly anticipating an (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) meeting coming up shortly where they discuss vaccinating that 12-16 age group,” Zink said. “This vaccine is in stock in the state and we’re set to vaccinate this group as soon as it’s approved.”

Elsewhere, the city will continue to hold small clinics at places such as churches and the University of Alaska Southeast, but the time of large-scale mass clinics at Centennial Hall is likely drawing to an end.

“The demand is only going to continue to taper as a larger percentage of our population is vaccinated,” Barr said. As of Thursday, 56.1% of Juneau’s population was considered fully vaccinated. “It’s important to note that all of our pharmacies that are providing vaccines continue to do so.”

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

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