The state announced it will allow Alaskans who are 65 and older to get the coronavirus vaccine starting Jan. 11.
Originally, the state told providers they could start vaccinating seniors later this month. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink attributed the change to confusion over eligibility and scheduling.
It’s a relief to Soldotna Professional Pharmacy co-owner Justin Ruffridge. His pharmacy has been vaccinating many of those included in the first phases of vaccine allocation, mainly long-term care residents and employees and some healthcare workers.
Before getting the green light, Ruffridge worried smaller communities would finish vaccinating those priority groups earlier than more urban areas and there would be a lag in the state’s plan.
“I think there was some concern about that just because the Tier 3 group, which is direct healthcare folks, seemed to maybe already be registered for their vaccines this week," he said. "And then potentially we had other clinics scheduled already for the following weeks and were really uncertain as to who were going to fill those up. And we hadn’t heard from the state yet about whether or not they were going to open it up to that 65-and-older crew. And then they just opened it up at 11 this morning. So a lot of people are calling and asking questions about that, but now they can feel free to go online and register and it shouldn’t cause any issues.”
Plus, the peninsula’s population skews older, which means it could have more people to vaccinate in the next tier. The pharmacy’s first clinics for Alaskans who are 65 years or older are scheduled for Jan. 14 and 15.
On Monday, the pharmacy was doing its first in-house vaccine clinic, for healthcare workers who work directly with patients. Prior, the pharmacy was traveling to long-term care facilities to do clinics there.
Ruffridge thinks they’ll be done vaccinating those healthcare workers mid-week. His staff will also start administering the second dose of the vaccine to long-term care residents and staff Wednesday.
The state is using an app, called “Prepmod,” that Ruffridge said made the process run more smoothly.
“The state had us enroll in an online registration site that also runs the clinic, so people can wait outside and then come in only when it's their time," he said. "So we were uncertain of how that would run, but so far it’s run really well. And we’ve been able to do two shots at a time, every 10 minutes. We’ll finish with about 80 vaccines today.”
They’re administering the Moderna vaccine to the healthcare workers. The pharmacy got 300 doses of the Moderna vaccine on top of the 400 Pfizer-BioNTech doses it received mid-December.
It’s a lot of moving parts. But despite earlier confusion about scheduling appointments, the state website helps.
“That website that we’re using today, that PrepMod, makes things quite a bit easier because we were doing everything relatively manually, creating calendars, spreadsheets and we were putting in a lot of manpower. This allows you to sort of say, ‘You came here, you got a shot, you must enroll in the second one,’ and they send email reminders and everything. It works out really nice.”
According to the state website, Peninsula Community Health Services and Fred Meyer will also begin vaccinating eligible recipients this week.
Registration for Alaskans in the 65-plus age bracket opens Wednesday. You can schedule an appointment at Covidvax.Alaska.gov.