‘We’re in this together’: State asks for patience with vaccine rollout

When appointments for seniors opened on Wednesday, slots filled up in minutes, DHSS said
Published: Jan. 6, 2021 at 7:19 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Following many questions over the process of scheduling appointments for vaccinations, particularly with the elderly, confusion seemed to only increase after slots were filled up just minutes after opening Wednesday. The State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, however, asked Alaskans to be patient with the system and promised that more appointments will become available in the near future.

“Private clinics are doing the best they can with the appointments available,” said Heidi Hedberg, DHSS director of Public Health, “but we need to move to a fast throughput. Those conversations are happening as we speak.

“And what you will see over the coming days,” she continued, “is a lot of these mass vaccination sites will be standing up, targeting the 65-years-and-older group.”

Elderly Alaskans, including anyone aged 65 years and older, are among those now allowed to schedule appointments as they become available as part of Phase 1B, Tier 1 grouping designated by the state. With tens of thousands of seniors in the state, however, and about 3,500 in long-term facilities, people have faced many challenges in scheduling appointments, as they are severely limited for the time being.

“I don’t think we could anticipate every glitch in the system,” said DHSS’ Tessa Walker Linderman in a media availability on Wednesday, “but I will say our team has risen to the occasion when these things have come up. We are quickly adapting with ways to try and make this a better system for people.

“Really, our goal is to work with you,” she added, “to get as much vaccine out as possible. We’re in this together.”

Walker Linderman, who is also a registered nurse, said there wasn’t one particular thing on the state website itself that seemed to bar people from being able to schedule their appointments. There simply weren’t enough time slots available for everyone who wanted a vaccination.

“It would be nice to, every Wednesday at noon, just update our appointments, open up our appointments,” she said. “But then we’d just be sitting on appointments we knew would be available. If we don’t open up in real-time, we’d be holding back appointments.”

State of Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said the state’s seniors are carrying a huge burden of the disease.

“Anxiety, isolation,” Zink said. “This has been hard on everyone, but I think it has been particularly hard on seniors. And I think they’re really excited to get vaccinated. It can be really overwhelming.

“But we’re moving through tiers as quick as we can,” she said. “[Appointments] are full right now, so at the moment you can’t vaccinate, but we’ll continue to open up. And as we start to see space in the system — we have a lot of equipment sitting here — we’ll open up the next tier.”

DHSS also said that moving from targeted vaccinations, such as the December distribution to specific health care workers, to more widespread ones, such as the entire population of the elderly, made logistics that much more complicated.

“The beginning was just very targeted vaccine dissemination,” Hedberg said. “And over the weekend, when we were planning to open 65 and older, that’s when we pivot.”

Zink said she didn’t have specific information on exactly when more appointments will open and who will be able to schedule them. She said that it’s difficult to know how much overall capacity there will be over time, for example precisely how much of the vaccine will be available and when, but that the hope is everyone who wants the vaccine will receive it as soon as possible.

“It’s hard to know. It depends on hesitation, it depends on availability, it depends on providers,” she said. “I wish I had a better answer for you. We want to just get vaccines in arms as quickly as possible.”

For more information, and to book appointments as they become available, you can visit the DHSS website dedicated to vaccinations and scheduling. You may also contact your local provider or public health care office for more information.

Additionally, the state has a phone line dedicated to vaccine distribution and information, which you can reach at (907) 646-3322. This phone line, however, is designed for you to leave a message and be called back, ideally within 24 hours, the state said.

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