As the number of COVID-19 cases in Alaska begins to rise again, health officials say the state’s vaccination is the best way to reduce the spread – but the pace of vaccination is slowing.
“This is where we are now with this pandemic,” state epidemiologist Dr Joe McLaughlin said this week. “We need to get people vaccinated.”
Health experts have billed high vaccination rates as a ticket out of the pandemic, and Alaska last month became the first state to offer vaccinations for all residents 16 and older.
The Alaskans most desirous of being vaccinated have already received their vaccines. Now the new challenge facing state officials is how to reach a busier and sometimes more hesitant group of individuals.
This prompted a change in their strategy.
“I think there is still a large group of Alaskans who would be fine to get vaccinated, but it just needs to be more convenient,” said Tessa Walker Linderman, co-lead with the Alaska Vaccine Task Force.
During the early stages of the state’s effort to immunize Alaskans, adoption was rapid and the proportion of people fully vaccinated was on an upward trajectory. That trend has flattened recently, McLaughlin told reporters on Thursday.
Once case rates fell below 10 per 100,000 people – they’re about double those nowadays – and Alaska reaches about 70% to 80% of those vaccinated, McLaughlin said the ‘State would be “in very good shape”.
As of Thursday, about 29% of Alaskans aged 16 and over were considered fully vaccinated while 41% had received their first vaccine.
McLaughlin’s current goal is to help dispel misinformation about new vaccines and give Alaskans the information they need to make the choice to get vaccinated, McLaughlin said.
“Reluctance to vaccines is one of the biggest obstacles to our ability to get back to normal quickly,” he said.
In Alaska’s most populous city, Anchorage, COVID-19 cases have steadily increased by about 75% between the beginning and the end of March, “which I obviously find very concerning,” said the Dr Janet Johnston, epidemiologist in the Anchorage Department of Health. an interview on Wednesday.
Previously, after the city’s major peak last year, cases had started to drop before leveling off. But now cases are rising again, along with case rates just before the outbreak.
Johnston said she hopes cases don’t climb like they once did due to the increase in vaccinations. But, she says, she is concerned that many appointments aren’t filled every day.
The lowest vaccination rates are among Alaskans between the ages of 20 and 39, according to Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer. This age group also has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases, which worries them as this age group could continue to spread the disease, she said.
Given the high vaccination rate among older Alaskans, there are less concerns that hospitals will be overwhelmed during a spike in cases.
But, Zink said, people in their 30s and 40s are a group of people who are hospitalized for long periods of time. And while they are generally doing well and being discharged, they may also have to deal with long-term symptoms of the disease as well as medical bills.
State officials said to catch a group less likely to go online and schedule vaccine appointments, they were shifting their strategy from larger appointment-based clinics to vaccination opportunities. walk-in in more convenient locations, such as grocery stores or doctor’s offices.
“This is the group that we are really trying to hit next,” said Walker Linderman. (Alaskans looking for an immunization clinic near them can visit covidvax.alaska.gov.)
So far, immunization coverage rates have varied considerably from state to state. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the seven most vaccinated counties in the United States were all in rural Alaska, with Skagway, Yakutat and Petersburg approaching 50% vaccinated this week.
But in other parts of the state, such as Matanuska-Susitna district, the vaccination rate has remained low as the daily number of cases increases.
The state task force is working closely with public health centers in different regions to assess specific concerns and get to the bottom of low vaccination rates, Walker Linderman said Wednesday.
“We work particularly with Mat-Su; we have polls that are really trying to figure out what the problems are, ”she said.
Health officials are describing the vaccination effort as a race against rising cases and increasingly contagious variants of the virus.
For now, Alaska is still winning the race, Zink said.
“But the race is not over,” she said. “We’re just going up a hill.”