Providers make shots as accessible as possible as rate of new vaccinations declines

May 27, 2021

Nurse Manager Leslie Felts, Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney, Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink and Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen at the new walk-in clinic in Soldotna.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

Getting a coronavirus vaccine on the Kenai Peninsula nowadays is a little like ordering a pizza. You can get it delivered to your house, at a music festival with friends, or you can call ahead.

Now, you can also walk in and get it when you want it. Soldotna Professional Pharmacy is operating a new walk-in clinic in Soldotna on the corner of the Sterling Highway and Kenai Spur.

It’s prime real estate, and pretty hard to miss from the road. It’s also Anne Zink-approved.

“We were driving over to the park and I saw it," Zink said. "And I was telling my daughter, ‘Take a picture!’’’

Zink is the state’s chief medical officer. She visited the Kenai Peninsula this week as part of a campaign to get more Alaskans vaccinated.

At the walk-in clinic Wednesday, she said the high visibility of vaccine opportunities is key.

“I still work in the emergency department, and I, every shift, get people who say they don’t know where to go," she said.

With a large chunk of the population still unvaccinated, state and local health officials are trying to be as conspicuous as possible with their vaccine efforts. And while they acknowledge some will never get the shot, they say there are also people who are on the fence or waiting for what they feel is the right time.

Over half of eligible Alaskans are at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data. In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, that number’s a little over 40 percent.

It’s a far way to go from reaching herd immunity. But Zink said her department has never said that’s the goal.

“Herd immunity really happens when we have so few people who the virus can take a hold in that it can’t spread from person to person," she said. "And that’s dependent on both how well you’re protected, either from natural infection or the vaccine, and how easily it spreads. But those are two variables that keep moving and keep changing. So we don’t have a magic number.” 

The metric for how many new shots in arms is considered “a lot” has also changed. Health officials are no longer doing large-scale vaccine clinics, since many of those appointments were going unfilled. Now, they may see just several people in a day.

Nurses Deb Aubin and Tracy Silta have been vaccinating since those early days and are now working the walk-in clinic.

Aubin gets choked up thinking about how it was to get people vaccinated then.

“It was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been part of," she said.

“And now, the people that Debbie is referring to, they are taken care of," Silta added. "Now, this week, what has meant a lot to me is a couple of fishermen that stopped in just because they saw our sign. So it worked for them.”

Nurses Tracy Silta and Deb Aubin have been vaccinating people at local vaccine clinics for months. Now, they're helping out at the new Soldotna clinic.

They're also seeing a lot of kids, since 12- to 15-year-olds are now eligible.

Silta said it’s still exciting to get people vaccinated, even if momentum has slowed.

“In a four-hour period, we’ve been averaging between five and 10," she said. "Yesterday was our high, we got 11. And I would like to see it double every day.”

The clinic, funded through a state grant, is new — just two weeks old. Soldotna Professional Pharmacy plans to advertise it more now things are up and running.

Down the road at Soldotna Creek Park on Wednesday night, over 60 people lined up to get the jab at the city’s Party in the Park celebration.

“I think the majority of the people I spoke to, it was, ‘I’ve been meaning to do this, what a great time, it’s right here, let’s get it done,'" said Justin Ruffridge of Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, who helped man the vaccine tent.

At one point, he said, they had to make a trip to restock. Ruffridge was surprised by the turnout.

“As evidenced by the fact that we didn’t bring enough vaccine," he said, laughing.

It’s the most people they’ve vaccinated in one day in a while. The key, he said, seemed to be convenience. 

It’s a strategy health officials are taking into the summer. The Kenai Fire Department plans to place clinics at dipnet sites in town. There will be a vaccine tent at Soldotna Wednesday Markets going forward.

Each clinic might catch a few people. But Zink told Soldotna officials moving the goalposts is important as rates plateau.

“I love that you’re resetting those expectations," she said. "’Cause I think that’s a big part of it. I know our team is like, ‘I went to this event, I’m really frustrated, we only did 200.' And I’m like, ‘That’s 200 people! That’s a lot.’”

The Soldotna walk-in clinic is open 4 to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday.