More Alaskans became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines last week.
The state opened up the Phase 1B, Tier 2 group on Feb. 11. The new group includes anyone over 50 with a high-risk health condition, frontline essential workers over the age of 50, any K-12 and child care education staff and anyone living in congregate settings.
In Kodiak, at least, demand seemed to have slowed for the previous tier of people 65 and older. When the local Emergency Operations Center hosted a walk-though vaccine clinic on Jan. 29, only 120 of the 380 appointments filled up.
As that trend widened to the rest of the state, with appointments at walk-in clinics in Anchorage filling slowly, officials decided to open up the new tier.
“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 last Wednesday.
“But as we receive additional allocations, we will just start plugging away at Tier 2.”
There are likely several thousand Kodiakans in the group, far more than in the 65 and older tier. There were probably around 1,500 people over the age of 65 in Kodiak.
School staff of any age are one of the bigger groups. The Kodiak Island Borough School District employs about 550 people. Kodiak Christian School and St. Mary’s Catholic School employ a handful more.
Seafood processing workers over the age of 50 are also eligible under the definition of frontline essential workers.
Seafood processors employed 2,327 people in 2018, the last year with good data. A recent study by economic consultants McKinley Group showed that around 30% of them were over the age of 60. The analysis did not include how many were over the age of 50, but just 30% of 2,327 is 820.
So it’s safe to estimate that at least 1,000 seafood processing workers are eligible, but almost certainly more.
Transportation and warehousing, all considered essential, employs 346 people in Kodiak, according to the latest numbers from the Department of Labor. About 32% of Alaskans are over the age of 50, so somewhere around 110 of those workers would be eligible.
Then there are health conditions for people over the age of 50. About 5.3% of Alaskans suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey from 2011 — 5.3% of Kodiak’s population would equal 670 people, though not all of them might be 50 or older.
About 20% of Alaskans smoked, another high-risk health condition, a Department of Health and Social Services survey found in 2016. Twenty percent of Kodiak’s population would equal about 2,500 people though, again, not all of them would be over 50.
And there are other conditions too, like cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, Down syndrome, heart conditions, obesity, sickle cell disease and pregnancy.
Those are only very rough estimates and don’t represent all the eligibility conditions or eligible people. But it all adds up to plenty of demand with much less supply.
“The minute that came out, we got a lot of phone calls,” Dr. John Koller of Kodiak Island Ambulatory Care Clinic said of the state’s new guidance.
KIACC has done three drive-through vaccine clinics: two for first doses and one for second doses. Both of the currently approved vaccines require a second jab several days after the first.
Shipments come every 10 days or so, but this one didn’t have enough in it for Koller to put together another clinic.
“With this new tier opening up, it’s thousands more people but we didn’t get thousands more vaccines,” he said.
“So there’s a bit of a mismatch there. But as the weeks go on, I think more vaccines will come in and we’ll be able to get those out to everybody.”