Haines COVID-19 vaccination rate nears 40 percent


January 21, 2021

Courtesy of Teresa Hura.

Teresa Hura receives her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 16. Hura was one of roughly 580 Chilkat Valley residents who received a shot as part of a two-day vaccination clinic the Haines Health Center organized on Jan. 15 and 16.

Roughly 580 Haines residents received the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine last weekend in a two-day push by the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC). To date, a total of roughly 900 in the community have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a rate of approximately 40%.

The health center ceased normal operations on Jan. 15 and 16 to focus solely on administering vaccines after receiving a shipment of 600 doses earlier in the week, enough to vaccinate everyone who, at the time, had requested one through SEARHC.

"It was so seamless," clinic administrator Stephanie Pattison said. She said all the center's nurses, schedulers and COVID-19 door screeners, roughly 30 people in total, assisted with the vaccination clinic, working 10 hours on Friday and nine on Saturday.

Pattison said all but an estimated 20 people in the upper valley were able to make their scheduled vaccination appointments. She said SEARHC is planning to offer a clinic later this week in Klukwan for those who were unable to make their appointments due to heavy snowfall.

Teresa Hura, who received her shot on Saturday, said she thinks the health center has been doing a fantastic job coordinating vaccine distribution. "I was very impressed with how smoothly it went from getting the appointment to the actual vaccination," she said.

Residents who received shots over the weekend reported sore arms and, in some cases, mild flu-like symptoms, but many said it was a relief to begin the vaccination process.

"We just feel really grateful that we're able to get it," Hura said, adding that many friends in other parts of the country have yet to become eligible in their home states.

"Because of my age, and my chronic bronchitis and asthma, I have one less thing to worry about. I just thought it'd be safer," special assistant to the governor Bill Thomas said after his Friday vaccination appointment. Thomas said he's relocated to Juneau for the legislative session but will return to Haines to receive his second and final dose of the vaccine on Feb. 11.

Haines' vaccination rate is one of the highest in the state or country. As of Tuesday, 5.4% of Alaskans had received at least one dose of the vaccine. The U.S. rate was 3.2%.

SEARHC, which gets the bulk of its COVID-19 vaccine allotment through the Indian Health Service (IHS), has been prioritizing doses for the remote communities it serves.

"SEARHC serves roughly thirty villages that do not have immediate access to hospitals. Because of that, they really wanted to make sure that we were able to vaccinate our population here," Pattison said.

While populations in Juneau, Sitka and Wrangell-SEARHC communities with hospital facilities-are receiving the vaccine at a rate that more closely resembles that of the rest of Alaska, the organization is making an effort to ship enough vaccines to remote communities like Haines to ensure that everyone in the community who wants a vaccine is able to get one, Pattison said.

Roughly 60 remain on the Haines Health Center's COVID-19 vaccination list. Pattison said these are people who have signed up since the clinics on Jan. 15 and 16, as well as a few who hadn't registered as new patients with SEARHC ahead of time. They will need to wait for the next vaccine shipment to arrive in Haines.

Pattison said it's unlikely Haines will see another 600-dose shipment anytime soon. Future shipments will likely be tailored to meet demand in the community.

"I want to encourage people to continue signing up for (the vaccine) because they'll keep sending us doses, and we'll keep doing clinics as long as people are interested," Pattison said. She said she thinks more will continue to register to receive the vaccine as they realize their neighbors aren't having adverse reactions.

"There are people still on the fence, but as they get more information, I think you will see more people swing toward getting it," she said.

For those hoping the vaccine will change travel restrictions, it may be a while before this happens. Alaska has yet to make exceptions in its travel mandates for those who've received the vaccine.

"Yes, you need to still comply with the requirements of Health Order 8, intrastate travel or Health Order 6, international and interstate travel," the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) website says.

This is because, at present, it is unknown whether the vaccine prevents people from contracting and transmitting COVID-19 to others.

"While the vaccines authorized by the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) for COVID-19 are safe and highly effective, they have been tested only to find out whether they protect the person getting the vaccine from getting sick with COVID-19. We do not know yet how well they prevent the person from getting infected with the virus and passing it on, only how well they prevent the person from getting sick," the DHSS website reads.

Health experts are continuing to study the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to answer questions related to whether the vaccine prevents transmission. Until more is known, it is recommended that those who receive the vaccine continue to observe pandemic practices including masking and social distancing.


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