COVID-19 Vaccine in Fairbanks

Jody Starkey loads the Pfizer vaccine into cold storage after its arrival Wednesday at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. Courtesy Foundation Health Partners

As vaccinating seniors and health workers is moving along, state health officials continue to define who will be receiving the COVID-19 vaccine next while engaging the public in the decision-making process.

More than 20 people expressed their thoughts live and almost 1,000 submitted written comments for a public hearing Monday, discussing who among Alaskans should be next in line for vaccinations after the current allocations are done weeks or months from now.

Among the spoken testimonies, people advocated for teachers, transportation workers and people with developmental disabilities to get the vaccine sooner.

With many of the schools coming back to in-person learning, people are continuing to ask to vaccinate teachers sooner. Teacher Amy Holonics said that kindergarten teachers need vaccinations the most because they can’t keep a six-feet distance and have to touch the children they teach. Another testifier, Thomas Hennessy, a University of Alaska Fairbanks professor, asked officials to consider including university professors and students living in dorms for the upcoming vaccinations.

While the previous public hearings brought testifiers from the fishing industry, on Monday, several transportation workers spoke up about the risks they take.

“We haven’t stopped working since the pandemic started,” Jeff Hancock said. “We are on the front lines.”

People with developmental disabilities were another group several testifiers asked to prioritize sooner. Lizette Stiehr, executive director of the Alaska Association on Developmental Disabilities, cited a study showing that people in this group are more prone to have health issues due to the virus.

Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink said the Alaska Vaccine Allocation Advisory Committee will take the public testimonies into consideration before they meet again and finalize guidelines for the next phase.

So far, at least 29,029 people got vaccinated and almost 6,000 people completed the series of both vaccine doses. Alaska is in the top five states in vaccinations per capita, according to the report from the Department of Health and Social Services.

People receiving the vaccine shots now include health care workers, emergency responders and seniors, as well as residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Even though all these people are eligible, not all of them have been vaccinated yet, Zink said, since not all partners were ready to administer vaccines in time.

After the current groups are vaccinated, officials will move on to vaccinating critical infrastructure workers based on age and health status, as well as people living in congregated settings and people with health conditions. For more information on eligibility and vaccinations, visit covidvax.alaska.gov.

In terms of virus transmission, 186 new people were identified with COVID-19 in Alaska on Monday, including 27 people in Fairbanks, three in North Pole and two somewhere else in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

“Virus transmission has declined since its peak in early December, but the last week has seen a leveling off in the decline in case rates,” officials wrote in the health report.

Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at 459-7587. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.