Alaska News

Older Alaskans outpace nation in COVID-19 booster doses, health officials say

Over half of vaccinated Alaskans age 65 and older have received a dose of the COVID-19 booster, which is ahead of the national rate, state health officials say.

Roughly 51% of vaccinated seniors in Alaska had received a dose of the booster by Thursday, compared to the 38% of vaccinated Americans age 65 and older.

But even as older Alaskans continue to get the booster doses, health officials are still struggling to convince many Alaskans to get their first shots. On Friday, Alaska ranked 32nd among American states and territories for vaccinations per 100,000 people.

And even among older people in Alaska, just 76% of seniors were considered fully vaccinated, compared to 86.2% of Americans 65 and older nationally Friday.

However, data appears to show that among vaccinated Alaskans, boosters seem to be popular. An analysis by The Washington Post showed that Alaska and other states with low overall vaccination rates tended to have higher rates of booster uptake.

Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz, a physician with the state health department, chalks up the high booster rate among Alaskans age 65 and older to a variety of factors.

“We definitely did a lot of pre-planning in anticipation of boosters because we wanted to ensure that the most vulnerable in our population would be covered,” Rabinowitz said.

She said state health officials made a point of working with industry and tribal health organizations to get boosters around the state. They also made a specific effort to get booster doses to long-term care facilities.

Alaska is unique since it doesn’t have many large residential living facilities, Rabinowitz said. Instead, the state has roughly 750 smaller assisted living facilities around Alaska, which means getting boosters to residents took advance planning to get to the often mobility-challenged group.

C.J. Kim, a pharmacist with the state health department who’s part of the state’s vaccine task force, has been helping to deliver vaccine booster doses to older Alaskans.

About 500 of the state’s residential living facilities are located in Anchorage and the Mat-Su, Kim said. He worked with the University of Alaska Anchorage pharmacy students to administer vaccines at the facilities.

The group had been doing that for flu shots for a decade and decided to add vaccine boosters this year. Kim said he thinks the effort contributed to why older Alaskans have received the booster in relatively higher numbers.

“If you get a place to do it on site, it is definitely a huge advantage,” he said.

Also, many of the people eligible for boosters were some of the first to receive the vaccine, including both older Alaskans as well as frontline workers, Rabinowitz said.

“I think that group understands the risk,” she said. “And watching kind of waning immunity, they were excited to develop extra protection with a booster.”

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