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YKHC opens COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all village residents

Preventing the illness in vulnerable communities is a state priority.
COVID-19 Updates
COVID-19 Updates(KTUU)
Published: Jan. 7, 2021 at 9:48 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - At least 32 communities with limited running water or sewer facilities in Alaska are now eligible for community-wide COVID-19 vaccination. Under State of Alaska COVID-19 Vaccine Allocations Guidelines published Jan. 4, residents in unserved communities are to have access to the vaccine in an expansion to Phase 1b of the state’s vaccine distribution plan.

According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, “an unserved community is one where 45% or more homes have not been served either via pipe, septic tank & well, or covered haul system.”

ADEC says most of the 32 communities are in western Alaska in villages ranging in size from 12 to 193 people, with an average of four people living in each household.

Along with preventing illness and death, the state has identified “equitable access for all Alaskans by promoting justice and mitigating health inequities” among its guiding principles. The communities are being prioritized since lack of running water and sewer facilities increases the risk of respiratory diseases including COVID-19, Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said Thursday.

Maniilaq Association in northwest Alaska announced Thursday one of its unserved communities is experiencing a large outbreak of the virus. “Kivalina is on high alert status with widespread community transmission,” the Association said in a press release about 44 positive cases of COVID-19 detected this week in Kivalina.

Maniilaq Association said it is working with contract tracers to notify individuals who may have been exposed, and asked residents to hunker down, social distance, avoid gatherings, wear masks and wash hands. Anyone concerned about their health or who has symptoms should call their health care provider or call Maniilaq’s COVID-19 Hotline at 833-442-7015, according to the press release.

Meanwhile, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. announced Thursday it will expand vaccine eligibility next week. Beginning Monday, all individuals age 16 and older will be eligible for vaccination. In Bethel, the region’s hub, individuals 50 and older and residents of congregate shelters will be eligible.

YKHC encourages all residents in Bethel and surrounding villages who are at least 16 years old to fill out its online COVID-19 vaccine application. This is to help YKHC identify people who want access to the vaccine when it becomes available and they become eligible. According to YKHC’s press release, after filling out the form it may take a few weeks to get an appointment, as vaccine storage, availability and logistics — in addition to individual eligibility — affect the process.

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