58% of Alaskans 65 and older have received a COVID-19 vaccine. State health officials want to see more

Pharmacist Ilana Druker prepares the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Houston Independent School...
Pharmacist Ilana Druker prepares the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Houston Independent School District’s Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center on Jan. 9, 2020, in Houston. Credit: May-Ying Lam for The Texas Tribune(Texas Tribune)
Published: Feb. 17, 2021 at 8:01 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska’s public health officials are keeping wary eyes on the spread of coronavirus variants across the globe, hoping to move faster in their vaccine distribution efforts than the emerging more contagious and potentially deadly strains of COVID-19.

“Right now, it’s sort of a race against the variants to get people vaccinated,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin during a public COVID-19 Science ECHO discussion Wednesday.

According to McLaughlin, a variant strain of SARS-CoV-2 known as the B.1.1.7 strain is the most concerning. It was originally discovered in the United Kingdom in September, and now roughly 1,300 cases have been detected in the U.S., he said. One of those cases has been detected in Alaska.

“It’s associated with a higher transmissibility rate so probably about 50% higher transmission rate and now there’s some evidence to suggest that it may actually be associated with increased morbidity and mortality, so hospitalizations and deaths,” McLaughlin said.

He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is predicting the variant could take over as the dominant strain circulating in the U.S. at some point this spring, adding even more urgency to the state’s efforts to get Alaskans vaccinated.

During an ECHO discussion later in the afternoon on Wednesday with local government officials, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink stressed that the state would like to see more Alaskans aged 65 and older receive the vaccine. So far, an estimated 58% of Alaskans in that age group have received a vaccine.

“We still want to prioritize that group and looking at these variants, we just want that group to be vaccinated in every way we possibly can and prioritizing that,” Zink told local government officials on the video conference, “so anything you can do in your community to boost up those numbers ... I mean 58% is great, but it would be great to be even higher on that.”

After vaccine appointments prioritized for seniors remained opened for several days, the state moved into the next tier of its vaccine distribution plan earlier this month which includes educators, some essential workers and people living and working in congregate settings such as prisons and shelters.

“I would just also say that there was an intentional pause given the really high risk of morbidity and mortality in that group,” said Zink.

Even though the state has opened up a new tier for vaccine eligibility, any Alaskans who have previously been eligible to receive a vaccine from the state, including Alaskans 65 and older, are encouraged to do so.

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