Sitka – On Tuesday, December 22, the first allocations of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccination arrived in the communities of Wrangell, Klawock, Haines, Hoonah, Kake, and Angoon. SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) providers and staff are working with medical leaders to coordinate vaccine protocols in respective communities. The shipments were delivered to SEARHC facilities just four days after the vaccine received an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration.
“We are excited to add Moderna vaccines to our growing list of COVID mitigation measures,” said SEARHC Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elliot Bruhl. “Our staff has gone to great lengths to promptly supply these communities with vaccine. At SEARHC, we operate as a unified medical practice and healthcare system – not individual communities – so it was paramount that we coordinate distribution to all our communities as soon as possible.
On Wednesday, December 16, SEARHC began administering the initial Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses. Due to strict storage requirements and short shelf life, Pfizer vaccines may be prioritized for urban centers, while the more durable Moderna vaccines will be earmarked for smaller communities.
Using guidance from the CDC and the Alaska Vaccine Allocation Advisory Committee, SEARHC will administer vaccines following a standardized sequence based on medical risk. Vaccination began with “Group 1a”: long-term care residents and staff, healthcare workers, EMS, and first responders. SEARHC will move on to “Group 1b”: elders (those age 75 and above), extremely vulnerable populations, and frontline essential workers.
“Our staff worked diligently to administer the initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine,” said Dr. Bruhl. “Careful planning by our vaccine task force resulted in the smooth implementation of vaccination clinics in many of our service communities. As doses continue to arrive, we have moved to vaccinate additional groupings within the standardized sequence.”
SEARHC’s initial allocation of vaccinations arrived in Sitka on the evening of December 15. They were stored in the required ultra-cold freezer and held at -70 degrees while transportation to other communities was finalized. With additional SEARHC locations awaiting ultra-cold capabilities, vaccines have just a five-day shelf life once they leave Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center.
Through the utilization of jets, small planes, float planes, and boats, the service areas of Juneau, Wrangell, Prince of Wales, Kake, Angoon, Haines, Klukwan, and Hoonah received their initial shipments. Efforts to allocate doses to patients in all communities will continue in the coming weeks and months as additional vaccines are made available.
“SEARHC Medical Leaders want to ensure residents that no steps were skipped in the vaccine trials,” said Dr. Bruhl. “They are the result of years of work by the global scientific community and proven both safe and effective. We will continue adherence to federal and state sequencing guidelines as we work to administer vaccines to all who want them, as quickly as we receive them.”
Two doses of the vaccines are required to ensure effectiveness, with the second shot administered three to four weeks after the first. Side effects are minimal and may include soreness at the injection site, mild fever, chills, fatigue, headache, and muscle and joint aches.
Until the pandemic has abated, residents must continue observing preventative viral practices. avoid large gatherings, practice social distancing, wear facial masks when distancing is not an option, and practice frequent hand hygiene. Safety protocols currently in place at SEARHC facilities will remain, including health screenings at every hospital and health facility entrance, masking requirements, visitation limitations, and employee testing.