Alaska will receive over 70% more doses of COVID-19 vaccine in March than it did in February, state health officials said this week, and vaccine eligibility has broadened slightly to include those who help older Alaskans get a vaccination.
The increase in anticipated vaccine doses is due to ramped-up vaccine production at a federal level, said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer.
“We have over a hundred thousand people that will be able to get vaccinated with additional vaccine coming in March,” she said during a call with members of the media on Wednesday. In February, Alaska received just 59,600 first doses of vaccine.
The 103,120 first doses of vaccine that will arrive in Alaska in March include 36,290 doses allocated through the Indian Health Service for Alaska’s 229 sovereign tribes and 66,830 doses allocated to the entire state by the federal government.
Additional vaccine will also come to Alaska through federal allocations from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the federal Department of Defense.
If the single-dose vaccine by Johnson & Johnson is authorized for use in the next few days by the Food and Drug Administration, Alaska could receive an undetermined amount of additional vaccine produced by that company in March.
Officials on Wednesday also announced a slight update in who can now get a shot.
According to the updated guidelines, Alaskans who “assist someone 65 years of age or older in getting a vaccination” are now able to get vaccinated. Both the senior and the helper are required to schedule an appointment at the same location and time, and the person assisting does not need to meet other eligibility requirements to receive the vaccine, according to the new rules.
Zink said the reason for this change was that the state continues to prioritize vaccinating seniors who “are the group with the highest risk for death and hospitalization regarding COVID-19,” and this was a way of supporting that effort.
She added that other states that have tweaked their eligibility in a similar way have been successful at increasing turnout among the elderly.
“We know that we don’t live as individuals in our own individual bubbles,” she said. “So it’s an attempt to really support the supporters, as well as really trying to help those 65 and older get vaccinated.”
So far in Alaska, at least 61% of seniors have received at least one dose of vaccine, health officials said.
The state also slightly broadened the language around “congregate setting” eligibility to include anyone whose job requires them to spend time in congregate settings.
Under another update to vaccine eligibility, anyone who provides daily, at-home support to a “medically fragile person” regardless of age can get vaccinated. Previously, only those who provided support to seniors were eligible.
Others who can sign up for March vaccine doses include those who are already eligible for the vaccine in Alaska, said Tessa Walker Linderman, who is a co-lead with the state’s vaccine task force, during the Wednesday call.
Those currently eligible to receive the vaccine in Alaska include: most health care workers with direct patient contact, seniors, educators and their support staff, Alaskans 50 and older with a high-risk medical condition, front-line essential workers 50 and older who work in close proximity to others, and people who live or work in congregate settings.
The state will continue working through this relatively large group of Alaskans through at least the beginning of March with the next tier likely opening up in the next several weeks, Walker Linderman said. (That next tier lowers the age of eligibility among Alaskans generally and among those with high-risk medical conditions, on top of adding other new groups.)
Those currently eligible to receive the vaccine can visit covidvax.alaska.gov or call 907-646-3322 to sign up for an appointment and to confirm eligibility. The phone line is staffed 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on weekends.
Not all of March’s appointments will be released at once, Walker Linderman said. More appointments will be released regularly by providers in the coming weeks, so Alaskans are encouraged to keep checking the website for those slots.