The disaster declaration for the Kenai Peninsula Borough is now extended through June. It means the borough can continue holding large-scale COVID-19 vaccine clinics.
That’s especially important now that the state has opened vaccine eligibility to a larger swath of the population. Starting today, those considered “essential workers,” Alaskans over 55 and people with conditions that put them at higher risk for contracting a severe case of COVID-19 are eligible to get their first doses.
The announcement came to many as a surprise Wednesday morning.
“I actually called PCHS this morning before I even knew that they were opening the new round," said Kaitlin Vadla, of Clam Gulch.
“And she’s like, ‘Actually, I think if you just wait a couple hours, you’ll be eligible.’”
Vadla qualifies as an essential worker in this round. She later called back and booked an appointment.
Those living in multigenerational houses, communities with limited plumbing and people living or working in congregate settings are also eligible in the latest tier.
The announcement comes as the borough is preparing to receive 4,370 doses of the vaccine for March — 800 more than it received in February. The Office of Emergency Management will schedule additional clinics to get people vaccinated later this month.
It can hold those clinics because the borough assembly voted to renew the borough’s disaster declaration through June 30 at its Tuesday meeting.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough is a second-class borough and doesn’t have health powers. Emergency Manager Dan Nelson said the disaster declaration does allow the borough to carry out its emergency operations plan.
“And the difference between what we would do in normal time and under that emergency plan is it allows us more flexibility and more use of the borough’s resources," he said.
For example, staff from borough service areas have been helping administer vaccines outside their areas — something they wouldn’t be able to do on borough payroll. Same goes for two temporary employees who are helping get people signed up for vaccine appointments. Those positions are all being funded by borough CARES funding.
That funding, in particular, expires at the end of March.
“However, there are some other funding opportunities we’re potentially looking at, or our traditional disaster reimbursement, which is how we would do something like a wildfire or a flood.”
Tim Dillon is executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, the agency in charge of distributing CARES dollars on the peninsula. He says borough assembly members asked him for his take on the declaration ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.
He told them the declaration is an important tool in the borough’s toolbox.
“Depending on what additional funds come down the pike, if the borough is interested, they’ve got a leg up because they have that declaration in hand," Dillon said.
Assembly member Bill Elam advocated extending the declaration.
“What this is not, and the reason that it keeps getting brought back and forth and why people have even thought about not supporting this emergency declaration, is this is not the borough saying that we have any kind of mandates," he said.
He said it’s important to make sure the borough doesn’t lose traction in its fight against COVID-19.
“We’re no longer in the middle of a pandemic. We’re on the end of a pandemic," he said.
Nelson said the borough is planning an 800-dose clinic mid-March. Part of the borough’s incoming allocation of vaccine also includes the Johnson and Johnson variety, which only requires one dose and can be stored in a regular fridge.
“We have been investigating what the best audience for that single-dose vaccine is," he said. "So we talked about, internally amongst our planning process, people that have mobility issues that are more homebound or unable to get easily to the doctor’s office and that type of audience, that that potentially would be an audience. And also talking about more rural areas.”
President Joe Biden said this week he thinks there will be enough vaccine for every adult by the end of May. Nelson said just over a fifth of the borough’s 48,000 eligible adults are currently at least partially vaccinated.
“The number that we are really focusing on right now currently is by about end of May, early June, we hope to have somewhere in the range of 50 to 55 percent of the borough vaccinated.”
Nelson guesses that’s when demand will plateau. It’s a loose estimate, partially based on the fact that between half and two-thirds of first responders, including EMS workers and healthcare professionals, got vaccines when they were first eligible in December.
When demand does eventually dwindle, the borough will stop holding large-scale clinics and shift vaccine responsibility to the private sector. Chain pharmacies, like Walmart, Safeway and Fred Meyer, are already receiving separate shipment of doses.
The Veterans Administration and Indian Health Services have separate allocations of vaccine available.
To determine your eligibility and book an appointment, visit covidvax.alaska.gov.