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Alaska News

Alaska health department floats idea of providing vaccines to travelers at airports

JUNEAU — The state health department is floating the idea of providing COVID-19 vaccinations to travelers at Alaska’s busiest airports with the summer tourism and fishing seasons looming.

The department released a request for information Wednesday, seeking to determine interest among potential contractors to provide a one-dose vaccine to interested travelers in a secure section of the airports in Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks and Ketchikan.

The document said implementing strategies to reduce COVID-19 transmission through Alaska communities is critical with the travel activity expected between May and October.

One of the vaccines available for emergency use is a one-dose shot, which the department says its Division of Public Health intends to use for such a program, subject to availability. Under emergency use authorizations, people 18 or older can receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC considers people fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving a single-dose vaccine or two weeks after their second dose of a two-shot vaccine.

The state health department request asks interested contractors to provide staffing plans and estimates for what they think it would cost to administer the program.

Division of Public Health Director Heidi Hedberg told reporters Thursday that in addition to gauging interest among contractors, officials would need to wait for increased allocations of the vaccine from the federal government. But she said the state health department is looking at “sometime late spring, hopefully before tourist season picks up” to be able to set up vaccine sites at airports.

Officials have said Alaska continues to provide testing for COVID-19 at airports, though such tests are not required by the state since a disaster declaration ended last month.

There is an ongoing debate at the state Capitol over whether a disaster declaration is needed. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has argued it is not, and is instead asking lawmakers for what he calls “limited tools to navigate what has become the endgame of COVID-19.”

Dunleavy’s administration, which in January proposed a disaster declaration through September, said circumstances have changed since then. The state health commissioner, Adam Crum, told lawmakers Wednesday he does not believe Alaska’s COVID-19 situation rises to the level of being declared a disaster under state disaster laws.

According to the state health department, 27% of Alaskans 16 or older are considered fully vaccinated.

Dunleavy, a Republican, in a letter to lawmakers said declaring a disaster could “lead travelers to incorrectly assume that Alaska’s situation is deteriorating, jeopardizing the livelihoods of those working in one of our largest and hardest-hit industries.”

Some lawmakers argue the state should err on the side of caution and provide Dunleavy with the powers available under state disaster laws, whether he wants to use those or not. Others have shown interested in authorizing narrower powers.

The state has reported more than 59,000 confirmed resident COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and 309 related deaths.

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