COVID vaccine in Galena

Virginia Johnston, 93, was the first elder to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the Yukon-Koyukuk Elder Assisted Living Facility in Galena last month. Community health aide Nicole Gregory administered the vaccine.

Alaska’s seniors can begin getting vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as Monday after the state revised its timeline.

An announcement by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said they are reducing the wait time for people age 65 and older by two or three weeks after “assessing how much vaccine remains to be administered” from the first wave of inoculations, which began in mid-December. Those have gone to health care workers and nursing home residents.

Seniors are next in line, and the state had initially planned to begin vaccinating them at the end of the month but moved things up after checking with vaccine providers.

“I think this will continue to change,” Dr. Anne Zink, chief medical officer for the state of Alaska, said during a Monday news conference.“The moment we can move to the next group, we are going to move. We want to move quickly.”

Appointments are being offered starting at noon on Wednesday via the state vaccine website Some seniors have already made an appointment, and they are being told to keep that appointment. The Fairbanks Senior Center is assisting seniors who do not have computer access. Its number is 452-1735.

People age 60 and older have died of COVID-19 at much higher rates than younger people. The number of recorded deaths from the virus in Alaska on Monday was 218. The vast majority were seniors. Still, it’s one of the lowest fatality rates among the 50 states.

The state of Alaska has about 90,000 people age 65 and older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Alaska received 61,900 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in December, with another 52,900 doses expected to arrive this month.

“We are moving as fast as we possibly can,” Zink said.

Seniors who cannot get an appointment right away should check the website later for more openings, Zink said.

“New appointments will be added regularly as more vaccine providers sign up and more vaccine is available,” reads a Department of Health and Social Services news release.

Multiple Fairbanks area clinics and pharmacies, including the ones at Costco and Fred Meyer, are distributing the vaccine along with hundreds of pharmacies and medical providers across Alaska.

The state is asking people in later phases of the vaccine rollout to wait to schedule their appointments. After seniors, frontline essential workers over age 50 will become eligible. That includes teachers, law enforcement officers, social workers, grocery store workers, transit workers, postal workers and utility workers. It’s not yet clear when those inoculations will start.

“We are getting more vaccine in. We are getting more providers. There is a lot of expansion happening,” Zink said.

Agencies that serve seniors are planning outreach efforts, officials said.

Darlene Supplee, executive director at the Fairbanks Senior Center, said she is getting information out to her clients by email and the Postal Service, and she is devising a plan to make sure homebound seniors have a way to get the vaccine.

Interest in the vaccine has been higher than expected, with about 80% of people in the first wave agreeing to take the vaccine, Zink said. Interest is strong among medical providers with experience with severe COVID-19 patients, she said.

Since the vaccination system is by appointment, officials do not anticipate long lines, but people getting vaccinated should plan to stay put for up to 30 minutes so they can be monitored for an adverse reaction, public health officials said at the news conference.

The state vaccine website has an eligibility quiz for people who are unsure if they qualify.

Anyone who is not a health care worker or over age 65 who has made a vaccination appointment is asked to cancel the appointment to free it up for others, according to the state news release.

Some people reported trouble with the state’s vaccine website, and state officials said they are working to resolve the problems.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.