Jill Biden urges vaccination, thanks Alaska Native health workers for their role in combating pandemic

‘Even one hospitalization, one life lost, is too many.’
Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 3:45 PM AKDT|Updated: Jul. 21, 2021 at 10:33 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - First lady Jill Biden had a message for Alaskans during a visit on Wednesday on her way to the Tokyo Olympics: “I’m asking all of you who are listening right now to choose to get vaccinated.”

Biden landed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson around 1 p.m. Wednesday, where she greeted members of the military and veteran families before heading to visit the Alaska Native Medical Center.

There, she met with Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium President Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson and Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink. Biden learned about the medical center and how it serves Alaska Native people across the state, as well as its vital role in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

First lady Jill Biden speaks at the Alaska Native Medical Center during a visit Wednesday, July...
First lady Jill Biden speaks at the Alaska Native Medical Center during a visit Wednesday, July 21, 2021 in Anchorage, Alaska.(Daniella Rivera/Alaska's News Source)

The first lady also met with ANMC cardiologist Dr. Joseph Park and Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Medical Director of Primary Care Clinics Dr. Cate Bruley, who briefed her on the state’s telehealth system and how it increases access to medical care for rural Alaskans.

“The silver lining to the pandemic has been the explosion of this telemedicine service,” Bruley said.

She shared stories of patients diagnosed with cancer in time to develop successful treatment plans and expecting mothers receiving remote assistance in delivery when they could not travel to a city in time.

“The Alaska Native (Medical) Center is so much more than a hospital, as you all saw,” Biden said. “It’s a gathering place for family members from across the state where they can reunite and it’s a place where you can celebrate new life, and also pray over those to whom we must say goodbye.”

The center brings healing through community, which Biden said struck her as powerful about the hospital. She noted the work of Alaska Native health organizations, like the medical center and the tribal health consortium, in leading the state in vaccinating Alaska Natives and non-Natives alike.

Biden’s main message Wednesday was to encourage more people to become vaccinated against COVID-19, which she said is more contagious than ever.

“Even as we celebrate the progress we’ve made, we know that this last push is really the hardest of all,” she said.

Biden cited the fact that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are climbing in the U.S. — a trend being mirrored in Alaska, spurred on by the more contagious delta variant of the virus.

“And it’s people who are not vaccinated who are going into the hospitals, who are getting COVID,” she said. “... People don’t realize ... your life can change in a second,” Biden said.

The path forward, Biden said, is reaching out to people on an individual basis and encouraging them to protect themselves and others — making the case person by person.

“Even one hospitalization, one life lost, is too many,” she said.

First lady Jill Biden arrives at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on Wednesday, July 21, 2021 in...
First lady Jill Biden arrives at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on Wednesday, July 21, 2021 in Anchorage, Alaska.(Charlie Sokaitis/Alaska's News Source)

Biden thanked Zink for her “steady, compassionate leadership” as the state’s chief medical officer throughout the pandemic.

“You were quick to calm people’s fears and give science-based advice, and inspire Alaska to ‘think like Zink,’” Biden said, referencing a phrase that took off early in the pandemic in response to Zink’s leadership.

Biden also thanked Davidson for her work through the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which she said is setting the gold standard in supporting rural communities. She plans to share what she learned in Alaska with her team in Washington D.C., Biden said.

The first lady called Alaska a special state and spoke of her prior connections to the Last Frontier, including a trip with President Joe Biden and the late former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens. She remained close with Stevens’ wife, Catherine, in the years since.

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