Senior Voice -

By Lawrence D. Weiss
For Senior Voice 

Seniors and the COVID-19 vaccine in Alaska

 

January 1, 2021



By LAWRENCE D. WEISS

For Senior Voice

Help is on the way!” -- Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

I’ll amend that – not only is help on the way, but it is here now. Alaska’s initial allocations of vaccines are:

Pfizer: 35,100 doses

Moderna: 26,800 doses

The Pfizer doses arrived the second week in December, and the Moderna doses should now be in Alaska. All together these are intended to be the first of two doses for approximately 62,000 Alaskans. After that, regular shipments of vaccines are expected to continue throughout 2021. These initial vaccine doses will be distributed statewide among public, private and tribal health systems. Military service members will be vaccinated separately through a federal allocation.

Each person will require two doses of either Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

So, the stuff is here, but now what? There’s not enough for every Alaskan who wants it, so how has it been prioritized? That story starts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On Dec. 1, the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP) released recommendations for groups to be vaccinated in the initial phase of the COVID-19 vaccination program (referred to as Phase 1A). States have the option to decide if the recommendations are a good fit.

The Alaska Allocation Committee convened On Dec. 10 to consider the CDC recommendations. The committee generally agreed with the CDC priorities for Phase 1A, but clarified the definition of “long-term care facility.”

The committee determined that this term includes skilled nursing facilities, assisted living homes and Department of Corrections infirmaries providing care that is similar to assisted living. The committee will continue to meet to determine additional populations in Phase 1A, as well as later phases of availability.

Here is a list of the first Alaskans the committee decided would receive COVID-19 vaccine:

Hospital-based front-line healthcare workers at highest risk for COVID-19 infection;

Long-term care facility residents and staff (also includes skilled nursing facilities, assisted living homes, and Department of Corrections infirmaries providing care that is similar to assisted living;

EMS/fire personnel providing emergency medical services;

Community Health Aide/Practitioners (CHA/Ps); and

Individuals who are required to perform vaccinations

This list includes a substantial number of seniors in long-term care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living homes, and even the growing numbers of older prisoners in corrections. That’s important because seniors in general are more likely to become very sick from COVID-19, and to die from it – especially seniors in congregate living situations such as long-term care facilities.

These seem to be reasonable choices for the Phase 1A vaccine distribution, but what about the rest of us older folks who live in our own homes? And what about personal care attendants? Well, not sure. For a few weeks the Phase 1A people listed above will be getting their vaccinations. Meanwhile, the Alaska Allocation Committee will determine who will be in the next phases. You can monitor this committee and give them your two cents’ worth. Search for “COVID-19 Vaccine Information for all Alaskans.” Once you have found that page, look for the section, “Who decides which people will get the vaccine first?”

Vaccination safety concerns

As a senior, by the time you read this you may already have received your vaccination. Congratulations! About 95% of seniors who get the vaccine are protected from becoming seriously ill with the virus. If you have not yet been vaccinated, when offered, will you say “Yes?”

If you are a bit queasy around “yes,” perhaps you are concerned about safety issues. Fair enough – let’s take a look at that. According to a Reuters summary of a Food and Drug Administration briefing,

“Six participants did die during the 44,000-person Pfizer vaccine trial, two of whom were given the vaccine while the other four people received a placebo...

“The FDA briefings clarify that the deaths were not deemed to be related to the vaccine: ‘None of these deaths were assessed by the investigator as related to study intervention’. They explain: ‘All deaths represent events that occur in the general population of the age groups where they occurred, at a similar rate.’”

The bottom line here is that at the end of the approximately 3.5 months-long clinical trials involving 44,000 participants, not a single person died as a result of receiving the two-vaccination series. On the other hand, as of mid-December COVID-19 had killed over 300,000 Americans and was killing around 2,500 more every day.

I call that compelling. As soon as my priority comes up, I’ll be the first guy through the door -- with the shirtsleeve already rolled up.

Resources

Visit the excellent Alaska State website on COVID-19. Just type into your internet search engine: “COVID-19 in Alaska”.

For specific information about the COVID-19 vaccines in Alaska, type into your internet search engine, “Covidvax.Alaska.gov”.

Your questions about the COVID-19 vaccines may be emailed to covid19vaccine@alaska.gov, or call 907-646-3322.

Author Bio

Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.

 
 

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