Alaska will become the first state in the country to open COVID-19 vaccinations to anyone 16 and older, officials announced Tuesday, capping a swift rollout of the shots that’s seen a boost from tens of thousands of extra doses shipped to and administered by tribal health care providers.
As hundreds of vaccine appointments remain unfilled across the state, officials are trying to spread the message that more people are now allowed to get the shots.
About 500 residents signed up for vaccinations even though they weren’t eligible under the state’s current criteria, according to city health officials.
State health officials say they’re set to launch a live hotline this week for Alaskans trying to get vaccine appointments.
Alaska health officials say that they’re considering moving teachers up on Alaska’s vaccine list as students head back to classrooms in large numbers.
State officials say similar mass vaccination clinics are planned for Juneau, Fairbanks and the Mat-Su.
“The bottom line is, is that we had a limited amount of appointments, and a lot of people wanting to make an appointment,” said the head of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination task force.
Providers charged with giving the vaccine say they’re eager to use the first doses to protect front-line workers, who are among the first in line. But they caution that the first shipment will do little to ease the current demands of the pandemic.
Other pharmaceutical companies may get approval in 2021, and Alaska will get vaccine doses from them as they become available.
The early batches of vaccine will be prioritized for essential workers in health care, assisted living and emergency medical settings, officials said Monday. Vaccines will be in limited quantity initially, and probably won’t be available to the general public until around March.