Alaska’s coronavirus pandemic still isn’t over — and we’re continuing to answer your questions. Here, we provide updates on the state’s COVID-19 vaccine prize drawing, other vaccination efforts, booster shots and getting tested in Anchorage.
Have a question of your own? Drop it in the form at the bottom of this article.
Has the state’s COVID-19 vaccine prize drawing boosted Alaska’s vaccination rate? What are the odds of winning $49,000?
In response to rising cases driven by the delta variant and a lagging vaccination rate, the state last month launched a vaccination prize drawing to encourage Alaskans to get vaccinated. Now, one newly vaccinated adult and youth each week through October will receive prizes of $49,000 apiece.
So far, state data shows that after a few weeks of holding steady, daily vaccinations rose in late September. On Oct. 1, over 3,000 Alaskans got the shot; daily doses through July were below 1,000 most days. More recent daily vaccination numbers for October appear to reflect a decrease.
By Friday, 63.7% of eligible Alaskans had received a dose of vaccine. Early this year, the state’s vaccination rate was the highest in the country. Now Alaska continues to lag behind the majority of other states, and is currently 30th in the nation.
The role the prize drawing has played in boosting rates is difficult to parse out — other states have seen an uptick in vaccinations when cases rise, and cases in Alaska rose dramatically through late summer — but some health officials say they believe the sweepstakes program has been effective.
“Thousands of Alaskans are getting vaccinated every single week, and from our perspective, a single shot in the arm is a success,” said Kati Capozzi, Alaska Chamber president, during a recent call with reporters. The Chamber is administering the program, which is funded with federal CARES Act money.
“We’ve heard anecdotally from pharmacists across Alaska that there are plenty of people walking into their shop saying, ‘I’m here because I want to win $49,000,’ so we’re pleased with the program,” Capozzi said. “We know that it is motivating Alaskans to get vaccinated.”
But some Alaskans don’t seem to know about the lottery or that they need to enter the same week they get the shot by visiting a website set up by the state, Capozzi said. In the first week of the lottery, about 40% of people that got vaccinated entered to win. The second week, only 30% of newly vaccinated individuals entered, and by the third week, that percentage had fallen to 25%, Capozzi said.
The winners are randomly selected from two age groups: Alaskans 18 and older, who win cash, and then those between 12 and 17 years old, who receive $49,000 through the Alaska 529 education savings plan, where the money is invested for the child’s education. Parents or guardians of the youth winners also receive $10,000 in cash if they’re vaccinated.
Last week, about 2,520 Alaskans received their first dose of the vaccine, but only 586 people entered to win. The week before, only 693 Alaskans enter to win. That means the odds of winning $49,000 have been extremely high in recent weeks — about one in 300.
A one-time prize of $49,000 also will be awarded to one Alaska adult and one youth who were vaccinated before Sept. 2. This group needs to enter before Oct. 30 and will be announced in the final week of the sweepstakes.
Should I get a vaccine booster shot, and if so, where can I get one?
Booster shots are now available in Alaska, and health officials say those who are eligible should consider getting the extra shot as a way to further protect themselves against COVID-19.
Alaskans who are eligible include those who received their second dose of Pfizer’s vaccine more than six months ago, and also meet any one of the following criteria:
• You’re 65 or older.
• You’re a resident of a long-term care facility or a staff member working at one.
• You’re 18 or older and you have an underlying medical condition, including asthma, diabetes or obesity.
• You’re 18 and older and you work in a high-risk setting, including a health care facility, school or grocery store.
Alaskans who fall into these categories — especially older adults and those with underlying medical conditions — “really should get that booster dose” of Pfizer’s vaccine, Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said this week. Guidance for those who received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine are forthcoming, and Alaskans who initially received those vaccines should wait before getting a booster.
Back in August, the FDA also authorized third shots for some immunocompromised people, including those who have received solid organ transplants and others with similarly weakened immune systems.
The recommendation for the booster shot for higher-risk populations was based on some studies that have shown the effectiveness of the vaccine may decrease over time. Some CDC data showed that for people over 65, protection against hospitalization had dropped from about 85% to 70% in the past six months for the Pfizer vaccine and from about 90% to 85% for the Moderna vaccine. A recent report from Alaska’s Division of Public Health that examined virus cases through August 2021 determined that vaccine breakthrough cases have become more common in recent months, and cited waning immunity over time as one factor.
So far in the state, there have been over 24,000 people who have received a third dose (for immunocompromised individuals) or booster shot. Boosters are available at most pharmacies, providers’ offices and ongoing vaccine clinics around the state, and eligibility will not need to be proven to get the shot, officials say.
Alaskans can visit vaccines.gov to search for a vaccine provider near them, or call the state’s coronavirus helpline, 907-646-3322, from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends, to get local assistance making an appointment. Many, but not all, vaccine providers in the Anchorage area are also listed at anchoragecovidvaccine.org.
Can and should I still get a free COVID-19 test in Anchorage?
City officials in Anchorage this week said that the municipality was scaling back its COVID-19 testing efforts — including reducing testing site hours and changing guidance on who should get tested — as a result of an increased number of people seeking tests in recent months, and a lack of funds to pay for those tests.
The change came at a moment when, according to state and city data, Anchorage is seeing its highest percentages of tests returning positive results since the start of the pandemic. By Friday, about 1 in 10 people getting tested were getting back a positive test result.
Testing is an important public health tool, and state health officials continue to recommend that anyone who has any symptoms of the virus — even very mild ones, like a runny nose or a headache — should get tested. People who are a close contact of someone with a confirmed or suspected case of the virus should also get tested three to five days after their exposure, the CDC recommends.
Anchorage residents can still visit anchoragecovidtest.org daily to find hours and testing locations near them.
Although some testing locations on that site now include a note that say they should only be used by people who have COVID-19 symptoms or who are a close contact of someone who tested positive, a city health department spokesperson said the note is a recommendation, not a requirement, and that no one will be turned away from using those locations. Other testing locations, such as the one at the Alaska Airlines Center or those at Walgreens, don’t include that guidance.