Less than a week after Alaska significantly broadened its COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to include a huge chunk of the state’s population, appointment uptake has slowed: At least four thousand appointments remained open statewide by Monday afternoon.
State health officials say they are concerned that part of the reason for the excess of unfilled appointments was that many newly eligible Alaskans had not realized they could now get a shot.
“I was working at (the emergency department) this weekend, and asking patients if they got vaccinated,” said Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer. “And so many people just didn’t know they were eligible and that it was their turn to get vaccinated.”
Last week, in addition to making vaccine available to anyone in the state who is 55 and older, the state widened eligibility criteria to include “essential workers” who are 16 and older, regardless of whether they work in close contact with each other or with the public.
That list includes: people who work in mortuary services, restaurant workers, delivery food workers, farmers, workers in the energy sector, bus drivers, postal workers, clergy, weather forecasters and laundromat workers all qualify, to name just a few.
The entire list in PDF form is viewable online, and is about 25-pages long.
“I think our main message we want to get out to Alaskans this week is just making sure people know that our eligibility has opened up pretty significantly as of last week,” said Tessa Walker Linderman, a co-lead with the Alaska Vaccine Task Force, during a call with members of the media.
“I really encourage any Alaskan that works to just take a look at that document because there are so many workers that are included as essential workers,” she said.
The state also last week broadened who was eligible for vaccine to include anyone who has a medical condition that either the CDC or that individual’s health care provider say could put them at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
No doctor’s note is required to get a shot, but health officials are asking that you at least have a conversation with your doctor to see if you qualify.
That CDC’s list includes those who may be at-risk, as well as those who definitely are. That means: Alaskans with asthma, cystic fibrosis, a BMI that categorizes someone as “overweight,” or high blood pressure, among others, are now eligible.
Also eligible to receive a shot right now: anyone living in a multigenerational household, or a community with limited plumbing; anyone who signs up a senior to get vaccinated (make sure you make an appointment for each of you); anyone who is providing daily support to a “medically fragile” person; and anyone who interacts with people in a congregate setting as part of their work.
“This is a very large and broad group, and I’ve been saying that if you think that you might qualify, you probably do,” Walker Linderman said. She wasn’t sure the exact number of Alaskans who are eligible now, but “certainly there are enough people that could fill the appointments if they knew they could sign up,” she said.
You can also call 907-646-3322 to sign up and to confirm eligibility. The phone line is staffed 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends.
“We would encourage anyone who’s interested in vaccination at all, if they’re curious, just call our number,” said Zink. “We’ll tell you if you’re eligible and even schedule your appointment for you at the same time.”