Anyone 12 and older who lives or works in Alaska can now receive a COVID-19 vaccination, health officials said Wednesday as the state reported 84 new coronavirus infections and two virus-related deaths.
Previously, only those 16 and older in Alaska had been eligible for the vaccine.
The announcement of the expanded age group came after a recommendation from a federal advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday morning that gave Alaska providers the green light to begin vaccinating kids as young as 12 using Pfizer’s vaccine. The expanded eligibility means 40,000 more Alaskans are now eligible for vaccine.
State health officials called the move an important step toward protecting children from the virus and slowing transmission community-wide.
“While children tend to do very well with COVID, they tend to be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. We still see kids get sick, we still see kids hospitalized, and we know that they can spread it to adults,” Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, told reporters this week.
[Q&A: Answers to questions about kids and the COVID-19 vaccine]
Parents and others can visit covidvax.alaska.gov or call 907-646-3322 to sign up for a vaccine appointment; new appointments are added regularly. The phone line is staffed from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends. Only Pfizer’s vaccine is approved for children as young as 12; the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved only for those 18 and older.
According to data from the Department of Health and Social Services, the two deaths reported Wednesday involved a man in his 70s and a man 80 or older. Both were from Fairbanks, which recently saw a surge in cases that strained hospital capacity there.
Alaska’s average daily case counts are trending down statewide, though five regions in the state are still in the highest alert category based on their current per capita rate of infection.
Health officials continue to encourage Alaskans to wear face coverings in public, avoid large gatherings, wash their hands frequently and get vaccinated against COVID-19 to prevent further spread.
In total, 347 Alaskans and six nonresidents with COVID-19 have died since the pandemic reached the state last spring. Alaska’s death rate per capita remains among the lowest in the country, though the state’s size, health care system and other factors complicate national comparisons.
By Wednesday, there were 42 people with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in hospitals throughout the state, far below a peak in late 2020.
Also by Wednesday, 310,431 people — 52.3% of all Alaskans eligible for a shot — had received at least their first dose. At least 271,092 people — about 46.6% of Alaskans 16 and older — were considered fully vaccinated, according to the state’s vaccine monitoring dashboard.
Alaska in January led the country in per capita vaccinations, but has now fallen to 28th place among U.S. states, territories and Washington, D.C., according to data from the CDC.
Of the 83 cases reported Wednesday among Alaska residents, there were 17 in Anchorage, plus one in Chugiak and two in Eagle River; 14 in Fairbanks; 11 in Ketchikan; nine in Palmer; five in Wasilla; five in Juneau; five in North Pole; four in Kenai; two in Kodiak; two in Utqiagvik; one in Homer; one in Seward; one in Soldotna; and one in Delta Junction.
In smaller communities that are not named to protect residents’ privacy, there was one in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area and one in the Bethel Census Area.
One new nonresident case in Fairbanks was also identified.
While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department represents only one person.
The state’s data doesn’t specify whether people testing positive for COVID-19 have symptoms. More than half of the nation’s infections are transmitted from asymptomatic people, according to CDC estimates.
— Annie Berman