A limited number of appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine for Alaskans age 65 and older were filled within 25 minutes on Wednesday, according to state officials.
More appointments will be added regularly as they become available. Also, efforts are underway to organize mass vaccination clinics.
Wednesday was the first day that seniors were invited to make an appointment to receive the vaccine, and Dr. Anne Zink, chief medical officer for the state of Alaska, blamed the bumpy rollout on the speed in which the vaccine is being distributed. Alaska is the fifth most-vaccinated state in the U.S., she said.
“I just really want to reassure Alaska seniors, we want you vaccinated,” she said. “We understand that it’s an imperfect system. We are sorry for that.”
Zink said they expected high demand, and she regretted that not all seniors were able to get an appointment right away.
Seniors have died of COVID-19 at much higher rates than younger people and are near the front of the line for the vaccine after health care workers and nursing home residents. The vaccination effort started in mid-December.
The state had originally planned to begin vaccinating seniors at the end of January but sped up the timeline after learning they had enough supply.
Seniors are asked to book their vaccination appointment via the state website covidvax.alaska.gov. The Fairbanks Senior Center is assisting people who do not have computer access. Its number is 452-1735.
It’s not clear how many appointments were available to seniors on the first day of appointment making. Monday is when they are expected to begin getting the inoculations. Seniors who live in nursing homes have already been receiving the vaccine. Two shots, a few weeks apart, are required.
Susan Gainey, a retired accountant from North Pole, said she became frustrated while trying to make a vaccine appointment for her husband, who is over 70 and has health complications.
She had trouble getting on a waiting list and started calling vaccine providers directly, she said. She learned some providers are booked for weeks.
“They said, ‘We can’t help you. You need to go to the state website.’”
Jeannie English, 68, of Fairbanks, also could not get an appointment. She tried for two hours. She also called vaccine providers directly.
“They told me they used up all their slots already, and that was an hour and a half after the opening,” English said.
State officials at a news conference said it’s not immediately known how many appointments were available. Vaccine providers add appointments on their own as they are able. This real-time approach is meant to speed up the vaccination program. Zink said they don’t want to “sit on appointments” and offer them en masse.
“We want to get vaccines in arms just as quickly as possible,” she said.
The January COVID-19 shipment has arrived and officials are still waiting to learn how many doses will be in the next shipment, which is expected in February.
Vaccine providers are adding staff in order to offer more appointments, and seniors should check the state website regularly, officials said.
The vaccine is reportedly being distributed to all corners of Alaska.
Plans for a mass vaccination clinic in Fairbanks and elsewhere are pending and details will come out in the coming weeks, according to Heidi Hedberg, director of public health.
About 90,000 Alaskans are age 65 and older.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough. Staff writer Gary Black contributed to this report.