Weekend clinics get hundreds vaccinated
For the more than 800 Alaskans who were vaccinated at Kenai Peninsula clinics this weekend, months of fear and anxiety about the coronavirus culminated in a moment’s breath.
“Now if you could just take a big deep breath through your nose," said Registered Nurse Tracy Silta as she administered the COVID-19 vaccine to Anne Browning Saturday at Soldotna Prep.
"Let it out. Perfect.”
Providers are vaccinating eligible seniors in small batches daily. But larger clinics, including four this weekend, are chances to vaccinate hundreds at once.
Currently, seniors over 65 and healthcare providers are eligible for the coronavirus vaccine.
Soldotna Professional Pharmacy and the Kenai Peninsula Borough doled out 360 vaccines in a pop-up clinic at Soldotna Prep on Saturday. The Nikiski Fire Department vaccinated 94 people at a clinic of its own.
Two Central Peninsula Hospital clinics also held large-scale events this weekend for their patients. By 2 p.m. Saturday, staff at Central Peninsula Internal Medicine were ahead of schedule.
“Patients have been so excited to get the vaccine they’re coming in early," said Dr. Kristin Mitchell. "And when we’ve called them to see if they can arrive a little bit early, they’ve all been ready to drop whatever else they’re doing and get here to get their vaccine.”
Those vaccines arrived at the clinic Friday. The next day, nurses, medical assistants, doctors and office administrators got those shots into almost 200 arms.
One of those arms belonged to Chris Kempf, of Kenai. He was planning to get his vaccine somewhere else before they told him there was no more room.
“So I called these guys just hoping and they put me on a list and then a half hour later they called back and said, ‘We got you in today,'" he said.
After getting his dose, Kempf waited in the clinic lobby for 15 minutes. Providers monitor their patients to make sure they don’t have allergic reactions to the vaccine, a side effect doctors say is rare and treatable but that has been reported.
Kempf was pleased with how the whole thing went.
“Not like what you see on TV and people waiting in lines all night," he said.
There are many eligible seniors who are waiting for their chance to get the vaccine, since supply is not caught up with demand. But those waitlists are online, through the state’s booking system.
The borough and private providers are helping support those who are having trouble navigating that system. The borough’s Office of Emergency Management has a call center staffed with volunteers for those who need assistance. At Soldotna Prep on Saturday, staff booked second appointments for those who couldn’t figure out the QR code on their flyers.
The city of Kenai is helping, too. It partnered with Alaska Cab and Central Area Rural Transit System to drive vaccine recipients to clinics for free. The Kenai City Council provisioned $5,000 for the program and will be offering rides from Kenai addresses to clinics within city limits until those funds run out.
To schedule a ride with Alaska Cab, call 283-6000. For CARTS, call 262-8900.
This week, the borough is also supporting clinics in its unincorporated communities, including Ninilchik, Nikiski and Cooper Landing.
For providers, it’s just the beginning of a herculean vaccination effort. OEM Operations Manager Bud Sexton said they’ll leave the tables and chairs set up in Soldotna Prep for future clinics. And there will be many of those.
“We could easily double the amount of vaccines we’re giving," he said. "As soon as they get here, we’re ready to get them out.”
Sexton said they’re looking for more help from medical professionals as they prepare to distribute doses to teachers and other essential workers in future phases.
“Because this is going to be many, many months for this to go through," he said.
But for the 5,000 people in the borough who have been at least partially vaccinated, including seniors who were ready this weekend to drop everything when they got the call to come in, the finish line is within reach. In three to four weeks, they’ll get their second doses and life will be a little more normal.
Diana Knoll, of Nikiski, said that’s what she’s looking forward to most about getting the vaccine.
“To stop worrying so much," she said.
Visit covidvax.alaska.gov to make an appointment or get notified when appointments open up.
Editor's note: Dr. Mitchell is a member of the KDLL Board of Directors.