First shot: COVID-19 vaccines arrive on island

The COVID-19 vaccine gets prepped at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center on Dec. 15.

Two local clinics have administered a little over 200 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kodiak to people over the age of 65 and healthcare workers in the third tier of Phase 1a. People of that age range are the only members of the general public allowed to get the jab as of now, while the third tier of healthcare workers has been eligible for a little over a week. 

According to numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, Kodiak has about 1,400 people over the age of 65, about 11% of the population. 

Dr. John Koller of the Kodiak Island Ambulatory Clinic said he and his staff had given about 100 shots as of Tuesday afternoon, some to people in the 65 and older category and others in the third tier of Phase 1a, which includes people like community health aides and other healthcare workers with direct contact with patients. 

A Safeway pharmacist said that the staff at the pharmacy had given out about 110 first-round shots. The next three weeks the pharmacy will be administering the second doses to all those people, which will comprise all the vaccine it has received from the state. 

State guidelines said the distribution phase for Alaskans 65 and older started on Jan. 11, while tier 3 of Phase 1a started Jan. 4.  

The two providers have been the only places where members of the general public can get vaccinated, as long as they are over the age of 65 or in the third tier. Other providers, like Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, have been administering shots to their staff in accordance with state guidelines, but are not taking appointments. 

But another provider is joining the mix as Carol Austerman, executive director of Kodiak Community Health Center, said her staff would begin vaccinating today too. She said the state allocated the center 200 doses for January. Patients have already been registered, but can still sign up to be vaccinated next month. 

The Ambulatory Clinic is also running a drive-through vaccination site today, aiming to get a few hundred more doses into Kodiak arms. 

Koller estimated that he and his staff will be able to administer between 200 and 250 people. All the appointments have been pre-registered. 

“I hope we can do this quickly and efficiently and quickly so that people can get vaccinated,” Koller said. 

He said that the clinic has been flooded with calls since the state released recommendations on Jan. 4 that allowed Alaskans over the age of 65 could get the vaccine starting on Jan. 11. 

Providers in the state have given 29,029 first-dose vaccines and 5,976 second doses, the state of Alaska’s vaccine dashboard says, although state officials say there is a lag in reporting time. 

The two vaccines that currently have approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, one from Pfizer and one from Moderna, both require second doses. Pfizer’s are spaced three weeks apart, and Moderna’s are spaced a month apart. 

In total, the federal government has allocated the state 114,000 total doses. 

Conversations are ongoing about how to allocate future doses. Right now, Alaska is in Phase 1b, Tier 1. That is all Alaskans over 65. 

“We will continue to stay in this tier until most of the demand is taken up, and then we’ll move to the next tier,” said Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink. 

The second tier is essential workers over the age of 50 who work on-site in close proximity to others, plus people living in congregate living areas such as prisons, psychiatric facilities and group homes. 

Those considered essential workers are teachers and school support staff, first responders, Office of Children’s Services staff, grocery store workers, food and agriculture workers such as seafood processors, public transit workers, post office employees and utility workers in rural communities. 

The third tier includes anyone between the ages of 55 and 64. It also includes anyone over the age of 16 living in “unserved communities,” defined as places where more than 45% of homes do not have piped plumbing, septic tanks or covered haul systems. 

The third tier also includes any essential workers over the age of 16 who have two or more high-risk health conditions, like obesity, smoking, diabetes, kidney disease or other conditions. 

Finally, the fourth tier includes anyone over the age of 50 with two or more high-risk health conditions, plus any essential workers older than 16 who are not covered in the first three tiers. 

It will take awhile to get all those people vaccinated. But eventually the state will reach Phase 1c. On Monday, state officials hosted a public hearing on who should be included in that phase of distribution. The federal government hasn’t released its recommendations for who should be included in that phase, but Alaska is working on it. 

Dr. Zink said that between the comment periods for Phase 1b and now Phase 1c, Alaskans have submitted over 1,000 public comments.  

Much like the hearing for Phase 1b, the hearing for Phase 1c was full of representatives from various groups making their case for inclusion. 

One seafood worker wanted the state to open up vaccine tiers to non-Alaskans. 

“Alaska’s recent stance that COVID vaccine in Alaska is for Alaskans only in phase 1b took us by surprise,” said Alan Davis of American Seafoods. 

“While many of our crew have residence in other states, they often spend seven to 10 months a year aboard our vessels and in our plants in Alaska.”

Bal Dreyfus, senior vice president at Matson, Thor Brown of the Anchorage Teamsters and John Hancock of the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union all lobbied for sooner inclusion of logistics and supply-chain personnel in the vaccine order. 

“Our ask is to increase the transportation and supply-chain workers into the 1b, tier 2 phase. We are seeing in the lower 48 an increase of positive COVID cases to truck drivers and warehousemen,” Dreyfus said. 

There were also requests that teachers in Anchorage get the vaccine before heading back to in-person school, for disabled people who don’t live in group homes, for university teachers to be included with K-12 educators and for librarians so they can help those in need use publicly available technology.

 

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