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Good news! About 62,000 doses of vaccine had arrived in Alaska as of December 21, 2020. More is scheduled to arrive as frequently as weekly, beginning in January. How much more -- who knows? The State of Alaska had not been informed as of December 26. 

Since December 25, nearly 12,000 Alaskans have been vaccinated. This is an important number because, as some experts like to say, “Vaccines don’t save lives, vaccinations do.” However, you were probably not among them...yet. Here’s why.

Today there are about 750,000 Alaskans. Most of us will be eligible to receive a vaccination at some point, probably within just a few months. Problem is, the production of vaccines cannot be accomplished fast enough to satisfy current demand, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended a series of “phases,” i.e. priorities, for which groups of people get it first, second, third, etc. Alaska has established the Alaska Vaccine Allocation Advisory Committee (AVAAC) to tweak the CDC recommendations for our unique Alaskan conditions. 

The Committee was pulled together by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS). It is composed of Alaska clinicians, ethicists, and other health professionals. The committee has been guided by a number of principles used by the CDC in order to establish the phases. Some of these are:

  • maximize benefits and minimize harms of vaccination

  • prevent morbidity and mortality

  • preserve societal functioning 

  • consider community and individual values

  • achieve equal outcomes for all Alaskans

  • be transparent

You can learn a lot more about the Alaska Vaccine Allocation Advisory Committee by visiting their website. Just do a search for the committee’s full name, or visit covidvax.alaska.gov. Note that the committee has been collecting input from people like you to determine who will be in the upcoming phases and tiers to receive vaccinations. Go for it! Details are on the website.

Who is currently in line for shots? Those who have been Phase 1a, Tier 1, have been getting their vaccinations since December 15. They include Long term care facility staff members and residents, and hospital-based frontline health care workers and hospital personnel who are frequently exposed to COVID-19 patients. 

Those in Phase 1a, Tier 2, have also been eligible to get vaccinated since December 15. They include: 

  • Frontline EMS and Fire Service personnel providing medical services, who are frequently exposed to COVID-19 patients and whose absence from work would compromise the ability of these critical medicalservices to continue. 

  • Community Health Aides/Practitioners

  • Health care workers providing vaccinations.

So far so good. Who’s next? Phase 1a, Tier 3 includes:

Workers in health care settings at highest risk of contracting COVID-19 who are essential to the health care infrastructure and who regularly provide health care services that cannot be postponed or provided remotely. This Tier applies to licensed, certified, and other workers in health care settings in the State of Alaska, who meet certain criteria, detailed on the covidvax.alaska.gov website. This includes direct support professionals who provide personal care or home and community-based services, laboratory technicians, phlebotomists, and workers performing COVID testing.

SOCIAL--Mask Up Alaska

Individuals who fall within Tier 3 will be able to schedule a vaccination appointment at identified Tier 3 vaccination clinics. Tier 3 vaccination clinic appointments can be made starting December 30th at covidvax.alaska.gov. Vaccination clinics will not begin until January 4th. 

But there’s more. On December 20, the CDC issued further recommendations for Phases 1b and 1c vaccine allocation. They recommended that people aged 75 and older, and front-line essential workers such as emergency responders, teachers and grocery store employees be next in line for the vaccine. They also released recommendations for Phase 1c, which includes older adults ages 65 to 74, and those with high-risk medical conditions. In Alaska, a public comment meeting for Phase 1b will occur Dec. 28, 2020. More information about the meeting, and how to provide comment even after the public meeting, is available at the Alaska Vaccine Allocation Advisory Committee webpage.

Good so far, but what about the rest of us? What about Phase 2 and Phase 3? Crickets. The CDC has not yet released recommendations for later phases that will determine when the rest of Alaska’s residents will get vaccinations. Consequently, the Alaska Vaccine Allocation Advisory Committee has not yet discussed them in any detail. However, in a revealing and candid statement at a meeting December 23, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink touched on this and some related issues:

“Sometimes I think people think that everyone's assigned to a number and that it's just like a draft on a roster.  I was talking to Operation Warp Speed yesterday, and it sounds like they only will know two weeks ahead of time how much vaccine is coming off the lot to be able to tell us even how much we're getting. We don't even know what we're getting in January. We don't know what the uptake [i.e. how many people will show up for vaccinations] looks like. 

“Initially it wasn't looking like as great, but we're seeing a lot of uptake with healthcare providers right now. So the more uptake there is, it's great, but it just means it takes us longer to get through those phases. It's harder to explain what that looks like. And we are asking Alaskans to be responsible with this limited resource....

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“The last thing I want to say is that these tiers do not represent importance. We are all important. And this is critical. My mom's important, you are important, frontline workers are important. What we're looking at is logistical feasibility, trying to make sure we're minimizing the morbidity and mortality, the death and sickness associated with this virus. Making sure systems work, making sure that these critical systems are up and running to be able to move forward, and to make sure that we're trying to get equal outcomes for people regardless if they're young, or if they're old, or if they live in urban areas or rural areas, or [have] sanitation or water -- all these logistics. 

“It's not perfect. But neither is this response. But it is way better when we do it together. So we really ask Alaskans to look at these criteria closely. And if you can wait, wait. if you can't, and you're exposed, we totally understand it. We're trying to go through the process as quickly as possible.”

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