A whole new group of Alaskans is eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine as of today.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced on Wednesday that they would open up the second tier of Phase 1B.
That means K-12 teachers, essential workers over the age of 50, people over 50 with underlying health conditions and a whole slew of other Alaskans.
“Our Elders are our most vulnerable population, and it was important to allow them time to get vaccinated these past few weeks,” Governor Mike Dunleavy said in a press release.
“Many of the seniors who wanted to get vaccinated have done so, and now it’s time to open up vaccinations to a new group of Alaskans.”
The previous tiers have been simple. Health care workers, long-term care facility residents and people over the age of 65 were relatively easy to define.
Everyone in previous tiers is still eligible to get vaccinated.
Things get larger and more complicated in this tier as restrictions around age, medical conditions and more occupations come into play.
“We are able to move on but at the same time knowing we don’t necessarily have enough vaccine for everyone in this group. It is a large group,” state vaccine official Tessa Walker Linderman said on a public call on Wednesday.
“But as we receive additional allocations, we will just start plugging away at Tier 2.”
All school staff, regardless of age, are now eligible. That means teachers, bus drivers, custodial workers, food staff and others can get the vaccine. Kodiak schools Superintendent Larry LeDoux said he was thrilled with the state’s decision to open up eligibility to school employees.
“We’ve been advocating for at almost every level we can think of to make this happen, along with other districts around the state,” he said.
“So we’re very, very pleased. … It’s a major step forward for the safety of our staff and students.”
The school district has not decided whether it will conduct a mass vaccination event for its staff, or have them go to local clinics and get the jab.
“We’re ready to do a mass vaccination center and we’re just as equally ready to facilitate other agencies to make it happen efficiently,” LeDoux said.
Also eligible as of today are people over the age of 50 who are considered frontline essential workers, defined as “people who are working in sectors essential to the functioning of society and are at substantially higher risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 because their work-related duties must be performed on-site and involve being in close proximity (less than 6 feet) to the public or to coworkers.”
Crucially for Kodiak, this includes the seafood industry. It also includes grocery store workers, law enforcement, energy workers and many others. Visit the Vaccine Eligibility page on the DHSS website for more information.
The new tier covers anyone over 50 who has a high risk medical condition. Those conditions are: cancer; chronic kidney disease; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; Down syndrome; heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies; immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant; obesity; severe obesity; sickle cell disease; smoking; Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes mellitus; and pregnancy.
And finally, the tier covers anyone living in congregate settings. These include acute psychiatric facilities, correctional settings, group homes for individuals with disabilities or mental and behavioral health conditions, homeless and domestic violence shelters, substance misuse and treatment residential facilities, and transitional living homes.
“As we get vaccine out quickly, efficiently and equitably across the state, we are constantly balancing supply and demand,” Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said.
“Given some additional vaccine that will be coming soon into the state, the remaining February allocation and an estimation of March’s vaccine allocation, we have decided to move forward with this large tier. While we know this next group is large, and there will be more demand than supply at first, this gives communities more flexibility to move quickly. The demand will be met over time as more vaccine becomes available.”
As of Wednesday, 114,000 Alaskans had received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the state’s vaccine tracker.
Visit covidvax.alaska.gov for more information about how to sign up for an appointment or call 907-646-3322.
Kodiak vaccine distributors are KANA, Kodiak Island Ambulatory Care Center, Safeway, Kodiak Community Health Center and, beginning on Friday, Walmart.