Following ANMC, Anchorage hospitals begin administering COVID-19 vaccine

The vaccinations round out the list of Anchorage hospitals beginning to inoculate front-line health care workers
Alaska Regional Hospital was among the large providers to roll out vaccinations to its staff on Wednesday. Video by Beth Verge.
Published: Dec. 17, 2020 at 2:05 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska Regional Hospital and Providence Alaska Medical Center on Wednesday rounded out the list of Anchorage’s major providers administering doses of the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine to some of its frontline health care workers.

For Alaska Regional, it was after extensive planning and much consideration that the decision was made to take a day after receiving its shipments of the vaccine for planning. This, the hospital said, was in order to make sure all logistics were in place before providing immunizations to staff.

“Today went very well,” said Alaska Regional Hospital Emergency Management Specialist Sean Murphy. “Surprisingly well. There were so many variables: We needed to get the space together, we needed to get the vaccine together, we needed to get the staff to administer it, and we needed to convince a very large computer system platform to work for us. But, it all worked out okay.”

Shipments of the coronavirus vaccine began arriving to Alaska hospitals on Monday. Other hospitals, such as Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, started providing shots for staff by Tuesday morning.

On Wednesday, it was Alaska Regional Hospital’s turn, with about 60 staff members receiving their first doses. All who received a shot were required to sit in a waiting room for 10 to 15 minutes after those first injections to make sure no adverse reactions — such as two recorded in Juneau this week — came about.

“These are all people that basically recognize that this is a relatively new vaccine,” Murphy said of the individuals who are receiving the shots, “and the risks and benefits that come with it. And they have decided that being able to come to work and to help other people and to continue on is more important than those risks.”

Murphy received his first round in the two-shot series on Wednesday afternoon and said that his experience was painless.

“The needle is tiny,” he said. “The volume is smaller than a flu shot.”

However, not everyone has had smooth sailing or the same response. Allergic reactions had been recorded in several Alaskan patients as of Wednesday. The incidents at Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau included symptoms ranging from more minor itchiness and eye puffiness to anaphylaxis, which has thus far required a two-day hospital stay for one recipient of the vaccine, according to a spokesperson. Different people also approach vaccinations differently in general, whether they do so more tentatively, calmly, anxiously or otherwise.

Wednesday was also a first for Alaska Regional Hospital, just like other hospitals in the area, as they plan out how to administer the vaccine to as many staff members as possible over the next few weeks. Alaska Regional Hospital Director of Health and Well-being Solutions Ruth Townsend said she wasn’t as worried about the shot itself as she was about how smoothly the day would go.

“I feel great. Nervous going into it,” Townsend said, “because it’s our first day. We’re doing kind of a soft run today to get it started, but it went great.

“I have to say, though,” she added, “when the vaccine arrived [Monday], the pharmacist says, ‘I feel like I’m handling gold!’ And we said, ‘You are!’”

Alaska Regional Hospital’s plan, in part, includes several hours of administering the vaccine each day for the next few weeks, aside from the Christmas holiday. Staff are emailed paperwork and sign up for vaccinations if they want to receive them. Then, as was the case Wednesday, they visit an interior suite, receive their shots, and are required to wait for a bit to make sure there are no bad reactions. In about three weeks, they will return for their second doses.

Health care workers remain of the highest priority for the vaccine, a spokesperson said, and will be followed by other especially at-risk groups, such as first responders. Public rollout will begin after that.

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