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Alaska, with one of the highest vaccination rates in US, shares with neighbor to the east

Canadians in one area on the state’s shared border are benefiting from a close relationship with the state
Vaccine is drawn for administering.
Vaccine is drawn for administering.(KNOE)
Published: Apr. 27, 2021 at 8:57 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The State of Alaska, through the Department of Health and Social Services and at the direction of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, is sharing COVID-19 vaccine allocations with some Canadian community members just weeks ahead of a state vaccine rollout for visiting tourists.

“So that we can help those folks with this situation,” Dunleavy said via phone. “That approach may help these communities get back to normal.”

Dunleavy on a trip last week made stops in Ketchikan, Metlakatla, and Hyder, the latter of which lies in Alaska and a stone’s throw away from the Canadian community of Stewart. The trip included joining state health officials as they provided vaccinations and presenting a new proposal for the Alaska Marine Highway System with state legislators.

The governor was joined by Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, who administered vaccine to some of the residents from Stewart.

“It was great to just go to a place in the part of the state I’ve actually never been to,” Zink said, “(to) hear their questions and concerns, and be able to provide vaccine.”

Zink said many of the people in the communities she visited had already been “pretty well vaccinated,” but some who wanted vaccine were under the age of 18, so she’d brought the Pfizer vaccine – cleared by the Food and Drug Administration for Emergency Use Authorization in people 16 and older – so that some younger groups could also participate.

“And then we also vaccinated some people who were Canadian there, kind of on that Hyder-Stewart border,” she said, “because they really function as one group.”

Stewart, a small town in British Columbia, Canada, was the target of the shared “sleeves up” campaign, with the hope – on the governor’s end in particular – that the move could lead the Canadian government to at least begin easing some of its restrictions, starting with those between Stewart and Hyder.

Dunleavy also spoke of Hyder’s intense connection with those who reside in Stewart, including the sharing of provisions and crossing the border for groceries, medical care and more, which has largely been on pause since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The issue with Hyder is that it’s small, but it’s also at the end of the road,” Dunleavy said, pointing out that it’s one of only a handful of official border crossings between Alaska and Canada. “So if folks from Hyder want to go anywhere by road, they have to go through Stewart, which is their sister town – you can see it from right there – and it’s really one community.”

Dunleavy said he’d be continuing discussions with community leaders in both Hyder and Stewart about cultivating a new, safe connection between the two towns.

“We did have a conversation with the mayor; we stood about 20 feet, 50 feet apart,” he said, “just had a conversation about how things were going.

“We’ll continue that conversation with Canadian officials,” he added, “in an effort to see if we can create a ‘bubble’ with Hyder and Stewart being considered one community, that doesn’t get divided by two countries, which is what was going on here.”

Ketchikan Public Health nurses will be returning to Hyder on another trip, Dunleavy’s office said, to not only provide second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to those who’d received the first, but also to administer more vaccinations to those who want them and have not yet started a series.

Starting June 1, tourists to Alaska will be also able to receive vaccine if they so choose at any of four airports across the state, located in Anchorage, Juneau, Ketchikan and Fairbanks.

Access state-by-state vaccination rates by clicking here to head to the Centers for Disease Control website. International data, tracking vaccinations by country, can be found here.

People can view the state’s vaccine data dashboard in full by clicking here. There’s also a team ready to help anyone who needs assistance booking an appointment. For this, call (907) 646-3322, 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends. People can also call (833) 4-VAXLINE, email covid19vaccine@alaska.gov, or visit covidvax.alaska.gov. Free language interpretation services are available.

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