Medical personnel in Alaska is currently actively working to vaccinate Alaskans across the state against Covid-19. As of Wednesday, 56,000 people had received the first dose and over 12,000 people had received the second dose, according to the state’s vaccine monitoring dashboard.
The first vaccination doses reached Alaska in mid-December and hospital workers, preparedness personnel, as well as residents and staff at long-term care homes were the first groups to be vaccinated.
Dr. Anne Zink is Alaska's Chief Medical Officer. She says the Arctic climate makes the vaccination effort in the state a bit challenging.
“Alaska, like the rest of the United States, has a decent amount of Covid. Infection peaked here in mid-November and has been coming down since then. Unlike many other places in the US and other places in the rest of the world, Alaska has been on a downward trajectory. So, right now we are doing OK. Overall, we still have more cases circulating than we would like, and we are working to get those numbers down.”
Zink believes distances are the main challenge for distributing vaccines across Alaska, especially in rural areas.
“Alaska is a large state. It is larger than California, Texas and Montana combined. Large distances can create challenging logistics when distributing vaccines. The Arctic climate can also be challenging. We have regions in the state that we have not been able to supply with vaccines for several weeks. Both of the two vaccines we have available in Alaska require very special storage conditions and handling, which makes it a bit more challenging to distribute the vaccine in rural areas", she says and continues:
“We, like the rest of the world, have seen some cases of anaphylaxis [serious allergic reaction, journ.note] in patients that have received the vaccine. We want to be able to support people if they were to have any adverse reactions to the vaccine, so we try to make sure we have a good weather window, in case anything has gone wrong and we need to medevac someone out to a hospital. The urban regions in Alaska look much more like the rest of the US when it comes to access to medical support.”
We were lucky in that we did not have a big surge at the beginning of the pandemic
Low death rate
Alaska's death rate per capita due to Covid-19 is among the lowest in the United States. Why do you think that is?
“I believe one of the reasons for that is that we have had a really aggressive testing strategy in the state from the very beginning. Another reason could be that we have the lowest nursing home beds per capita than anywhere else in the US. A lot of our elders are cared for in their homes or in smaller communities, rather than in large nursing homes. We were also lucky in that we did not have a big surge at the beginning of the pandemic”.
When do you hope to get all Alaskans vaccinated?
“There is going to be a while until we get children vaccinated. There is also going to be a group of people who are going to be hesitant in getting the vaccine for different reasons. I describe the Covid-vaccination process like the sun. Right now there is a little bit of sunshine in the Arctic. And right now there are a small number of vaccines available. By spring equinox, vaccines are going to be coming in fast. And by summer solstice there are going to be plenty of vaccines available. I think that by then, those who want to be vaccinated will be able to get one", Zink says in closing.
A total of 228 Alaskans have died with Covid-19 since the pandemic reached the state last March.