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Alaska prepares to receive first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine

Thousands of doses of Pfizer’s vaccine could arrive over the weekend
U.S. experts convene Thursday to decide whether to okay Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
U.S. experts convene Thursday to decide whether to okay Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
Published: Dec. 10, 2020 at 8:07 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska’s public health team expects Alaska’s first COVID-19 vaccine doses to be administered as early as next week. After Thursday’s approval of the vaccine for emergency use, the state should receive doses within three days after shipments go out.

Hospital staff who are frontline health care workers at risk for exposure to COVID-19 will be among the first recipients.

“Our goal is, again, science, equity and logistically feasible to make this happen so that we don’t waste any vaccine, we get it out as quickly and as efficiently as possible, as equitably as possible, driven by data and science on who it’s going to benefit the most,” Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, said Thursday during a regularly scheduled media conference over Zoom.

Among the considerations is how best to prevent deaths. “If we have hospitals becoming overrun and you don’t have staff to do it, that’s a problem,” Zink said, explaining why health care workers will be in the first wave of individuals to be immunized.

Alaska will receive 35,100 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and 17,900 doses of the Moderna vaccine. Moderna’s vaccine is expected to arrive in the state later in the month.

Other individuals eligible for the very first round of vaccines are staff and residents in long-term care facilities, emergency medical service and fire personnel, health aides and people who perform vaccinations, the state said.

Vaccines from both manufacturers require two doses several weeks apart, and the vaccines are not interchangeable. Once a vaccine is complete, data show immunity begins with 10 to 14 days, said Alaska Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin, who was in attendance during the Zoom event.

The vaccine is said to be 95% effective. However, there are some side effects.

“Short term mild to moderate pain at the injection site, headache, fatigue,” said McLaughlin. “If you’ve had COVID within the last 90 days, they recommend you wait until after that 90 days so that vaccine can be available to folks who haven’t had COVID.”

Zink emphasized the continued benefit of other disease prevention strategies, including wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing and avoidance of gatherings. During a second Zoom meeting specific to the vaccine, public health physician Dr. Elizabeth Ohlsen said in the early phase of vaccine distribution, the benefit of immunization is really for the individual who receives it. It will take many people getting vaccinated to see a substantial drop in the prevalence of community spread of COVID-19, Zink and Ohlsen both said.

“This is going to be a hard couple of months, but we have a lot to be grateful for and are really looking forward to getting vaccination out there and starting to turn the corner on this. The end is in sight,” Zink said.

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