COVID-19 vaccine arrives in Alaska but will take longer to reach Haines
December 17, 2020
The first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Alaska late Sunday. As of Wednesday, it was unclear when the vaccine will arrive in Haines.
“It’s changing by the minute,” Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Director of Marketing and Communications Maegan Bosak said Tuesday afternoon.
On Wednesday, SEARHC headquarters in Sitka confirmed that the first shipment of the vaccine had arrived. From Sitka, vaccine doses will be distributed to communities throughout the consortium. Weather dependent, the first doses of the vaccine could be in Haines as soon as Thursday, Bosak said. She said she couldn’t provide an exact number for vaccine doses arriving in Haines.
In total, the state will receive 35,100 doses of the Pfizer vaccine over the course of this week. Those eligible to receive the vaccine initially are front-line healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents and staff, EMS and fire personnel, and individuals who are required to perform vaccinations.
At a press briefing Monday, co-lead of Alaska’s Vaccine Task Force Tessa Walker Linderman said the process for determining the number of vaccine doses to send to each community involves surveying those in eligible categories.
“When we first saw that hospital workers were identified in tier one, we immediately went to the hospitals and surveyed them on their front-line hospital staff, and how many would actually take the vaccine. So that’s how we got our hospital numbers. Moving on down, looking at every long-term care facility across the state and surveying on the number of residents and staff. Doing the same thing with EMS,” Walker Linderman said. “It was a painstaking process” but necessary to get an accurate count of where to send vaccine doses, she said.
Haines Health Center clinic administrator Stephanie Pattison said she doesn’t know how many doses are destined for Haines, in part because some of those eligible have yet to make up their minds about taking the vaccination.
“There are those who have said, ‘Yes,’ those who’ve said, ‘No,’ and those who are on the fence,” Pattison said.
Haines Borough staff eligible to receive the vaccine in the first round include police, fire and EMS, and members of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Interim manager Alekka Fullerton said it’s been difficult to get a headcount in the wake of the Dec. 2 landslide as emergency response to the natural disaster has taken precedence.
“Last I heard, we were running at about fifty percent (interest) from the fire department and EMS,” Fullerton said.
Scott Bradford, who qualifies for the first round of vaccinations, said he plans to get vaccinated.
“Certainly I have a few concerns--it’s new and usually before you decide to get a vaccine it’s been out for a while so you see if there are any negative reactions--but I think the concerns don’t outweigh the actual risk of COVID,” he said. “I’d rather take the vaccine than live in fear of catching COVID.”
Al Badgley, another member of the Haines Volunteer Fire Department, said he, too, plans to get vaccinated, although he understands why others in the department might not want to.
“Some of the people that are less active (in the department), a lot of those people maybe aren’t thinking about getting (COVID-19),” he said, adding that another concern could be the short time frame in which the vaccine was developed and tested.
“No one knows the long-term effects of the vaccine,” Badgley said. “But we know what the long-term effects of getting COVID are. I feel that I’m willing to take the vaccine because I feel the benefits outweigh the potential harm.”
Like Bradford and Badgley, Fullerton, who qualifies due to her role on the EOC, said she plans to get vaccinated. She said she hopes getting vaccinated will allow her to travel more freely and visit her mother, which she has been unable to do for the past year.
State officials on the Monday press call said in general, first responders who have firsthand experience treating patients seriously ill with COVID-19 have been more likely to agree to get vaccinated.
Statewide, roughly 25,000 first responders and long-term care facility staff and residents are eligible for the first round of vaccinations. In addition to doses of the Pfizer vaccine, the state is expected to receive 25,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine in the coming weeks, once it has been reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have proven highly effective during clinical trials.
The Alaska COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Committee is working to identify additional populations that are a priority for receiving the vaccine, based on input from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state doesn’t expect to have enough vaccine doses for the general public until later in 2021, Walker Linderman said.
As of Wednesday morning, there were no known active cases of COVID-19 in Haines. According to the EOC, a borough resident who was in the community as recently as Dec. 4 tested positive for COVID-19 in another state and a second resident, who hasn’t been in the community for several weeks, tested positive and is isolating in Juneau. Community members who wish to receive a COVID-19 test should contact the Haines Health Center to schedule an appointment. SEARHC’s free, asymptomatic testing program ended Dec. 2.