Alaska News

Vaccine hesitancy threatens Alaska pandemic recovery even as supplies ramp up, health officials say

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Alaska will soon have enough COVID-19 vaccine available in the state for every eligible resident, the state’s top doctor said Wednesday.

“By the end of May, we will have enough vaccine for every Alaskan to get vaccinated who’s 16 and above,” Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer said during a public information call.

But vaccination rates across the state have varied widely by communities, data from the state showed — and some officials have worried that vaccine hesitancy in some communities could prevent life from going back to normal quickly.

[U.S. sees unprecedented drop in vaccinations over past week]

The vaccine supply estimate is based on how much vaccine the state has already received, as well as projected allocation numbers for May, she said. Data available from the state shows that Alaska will have received just over 508,000 first doses of vaccine by the end of April.

Although the state doesn’t yet know how much vaccine it will receive from the federal government in May, it is projected to be enough to vaccinate the approximately 565,746 eligible Alaskans who live in the state, officials said.

[Some remote Alaska villages achieve high vaccination rates]

Alaska in March became the first state in the country to drop additional eligibility requirements and open up vaccine availability to anyone 16 and older living or working in the state. Last week, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced that Alaska will begin offering vaccines to tourists in June.

By Wednesday, nearly half of eligible residents in Alaska had received a shot.

But the latest data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that Alaska, which was once No. 1 for most vaccinations per capita in the U.S., has now fallen to No. 13.

While at least five boroughs had reached coverage rates of over 70% of their eligible population by Wednesday, other communities were showing much lower rates.

In the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, just 32% of its eligible population had received a dose, and in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area, just 28% had.

Zink added Wednesday that she was hopeful that Alaska would see all regions boast high vaccination rates, which would signal widespread immunity and the end of the pandemic.

Anchorage’s vaccine tracker showed Wednesday that 52% of the eligible population had received at least one dose while about 45% was considered fully vaccinated. Anchorage’s acting mayor has set a goal of vaccinating 70% of eligible residents to lift the municipality’s pandemic emergency order.

“It’s possible, and it’s doable,” Zink said when asked specifically if Anchorage’s goal was achievable by summer.

“It really just depends on Alaskans,” she said.