Now that a federal agency has given a green light to the nation’s first COVID-19 vaccine, the first doses are expected to arrive in Alaska in a matter of days with the first vaccinations occurring over the next week, health officials said Saturday.
But the vaccine situation in Alaska is fluid, according to Clinton Bennett, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. On Saturday evening, he said in an email that shipping of the vaccine was expected to start Sunday night and continue through Tuesday.
While those plans could change, the state health department is expecting Alaska’s first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines to arrive Monday.
Various health care facilities have their own plans for a vaccination timeline, but the first dose of vaccine could go into an Alaskan’s arm as soon as Monday, he said. Since the vaccine shipments aren’t all arriving at once, the days for vaccination might vary.
The COVID-19 vaccine comes not a moment too soon, as the state deals with continued surges in new infections, taxing its already thin health care system and sickening thousands of Alaskans. Outbreaks are occurring in Alaska’s most populous cities and some of its smallest, most remote communities.
On Saturday, the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, took to Twitter to herald the vaccine news.
“This is a big step #Alaska - as the CDC said - ‘this is a huge turning point in this pandemic’,” Zink wrote. “Much more to come soon.”
Alaska is expected to receive an initial 35,100 doses of the vaccine from drugmaker Pfizer. Those doses are specifically designated for people deemed highest priority for initial vaccination by federal and state allocation committees.
Those individuals include people who work on the front lines in the state’s hospitals, which officials hope will alleviate some of the major staffing issues that Alaska has seen recently. Health care staff have been in quarantine or isolation and away from work after positive tests or recent exposures, limiting the number of staffed beds available to patients and putting pressure on the entire health care system.
In addition, community health aides and practitioners are prioritized for the initial vaccine round, along with emergency services personnel.
Nursing homes, which have been the epicenter of several large-scale and devastating outbreaks nationwide, are also designated for the first phase of vaccines. Both staff and residents at long-term care facilities are expected to receive a vaccine during this first phase.
In total, that makes up roughly 25,000 people slated to receive the first rounds of vaccines in Alaska, state health officials said this week.
During a public video call earlier in the week, Tessa Walker Linderman, who leads the state’s vaccination effort, said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration plans to review a second vaccine — from pharmaceutical company Moderna — on Thursday and Alaska could see subsequent shipments of that vaccine this month.
While most states are receiving vaccine shipments on a weekly basis, Alaska will get them monthly, which means the state has more vaccines to begin with, she said on Thursday’s call.
“We’re working hard to make sure we can get that vaccine out the door as quickly as possible,” Walker Linderman said.
The Pfizer shipment this month includes 35,100 doses while the Moderna shipment will have 26,800 doses. In total, there were 300 enrolled vaccine providers statewide as of Thursday, she said.