PALMER — The first 900 doses of Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 are being administered at Raven Hall on the Alaska State Fairgrounds this week in coordination from public health nurses and the Mat-Su Borough emergency management department.
On Tuesday, 300 of the 2,500 total doses allotted for Phase 1b Tier 1 of eligible vaccine recipients were administered to delight of many Valley residents over the age of 65.
“I’m relieved. I think it’s a healing step for the country to get back,” said Dan Foster. “I just hope it all works.”
Foster received his vaccine from Craig Dollerhide on Tuesday after a brief waiting period inside of Raven Hall. After eligible residents sign up for the vaccine either online or over the phone, those seeking to be vaccinated enter Raven Hall for screening, have their appointment confirmed, and receive the vaccine. Those who received the vaccine then wait for between 15 and 30 minutes to monitor for possible allergic reactions before returning on Feb. 9 for the second dose of vaccination.
“I think they’re stepping up to the plate,” said Foster. “It seemed like it was pretty simple, signed up for it once, filled out the application and then waited a few days and then they confirmed and made an appointment for today. So yeah, pretty easy.”
Public health nurses and members of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) aided in the process in directing those wishing to receive the vaccine through Raven Hall and monitoring those who had received their first doses on Tuesday. Public health nurse Rene Dillow has begun working on a vaccination steering committee for the Mat-Su Valley, working in collaboration with the Mat-Su Borough and the state Department of Health and Social Services.
“This will be really nice. Our steering committee will work together and everybody can look at what capacity they have and we’ll be able to spread that out al little more because it’s kind of nicer to go to your own doctor or go to a doctor’s office or you know, some people like to go to the pharmacy rather than have to come to a big event necessarily, but this is a way to get a lot out in a short time,” said Dillow.
In an interview on Radio Free Palmer aired on Tuesday, Mat-Su Borough Emergency Manager Casey Cook detailed the response from the borough in working to administer the vaccine. Cook said that the borough has been the recipient of a point of dispensing grant in order to practice for events such as mass vaccinations.
“Over the last few years like I said we’ve planned that, we’ve exercised it, just for something like this to be able to happen. We recently did it with the testing so that was kind of a practice run last summer with the drive through testing or drive up testing that we did and now we’re implementing you know the dispensing part of the plan to give out them and we work hand in hand with state of Alaska public health nursing to do this because really it’s their program and this grant that we received allows us to purchase supplies and exercise,” said Cook. “It just comes down to getting the most vaccine to the most amount of people as quickly as possible.”
Cook stressed that residents remain patient as vaccination appointments quickly filled up. However, Dillow also noted that some appointments have been cancelled, allowing wait-listed residents to receive their initial vaccine dose earlier than anticipated.
“It may take them a little bit to get back to you because they’re, I think they’re working overtime to make sure that happens,” said Cook. “The big message I would ask people to do is just try to be patient with us and the state, especially as they’re running their program to get the vaccination out to people.”
Dillow said that confusion over the expected allotment of 300 doses was remedied when additional doses were provided to allow for everyone who had signed up for the vaccinations that opened on Jan. 6. Walk-in vaccinations are not accepted and residents must make an appointment. Dillow was thankful for the partnership with Cook and the Mat-Su Borough in securing Raven Hall as the vaccination location.
“That’s one thing that makes covid vaccines harder because we don’t want our vaccine clinic to be a superspreader event and so we’ve got to have plenty of space for people to sit and wait,” said Dillow. “We had planned much smaller events at our health center working with the borough and we were going to test some of our processes with different things, but anyway once we saw we were going to have a lot of elderly people, we needed a venue where we could get them in and out you know this is a nice flat space, no stairs getting in or out.”
Cook noted that local health care providers are under no mandate to secure and provide the vaccine, but ‘closed point of dispensing’ appointments may be scheduled for businesses to administer doses of vaccination to most or all of their staff at one time. As emergency manager for the borough, Cook also applauded first responder for their ability to alter procedures for the safety of the public they serve.
“Specifically EMS and firefighters and law enforcement right, they’re normally people that are there to serve and they’re there to help and that public service and that public servant attitude really is showing through this pandemic response,” said Cook. “They’re having to do it on a larger scale and that public servant heart is really showing through to be able to wear that PPE for much longer times and a lot of it.”
Dillow was also thankful to staff from Mat-Su Regional Medical Center for their willingness to step up and volunteer to help administer vaccinations. Dillow specifically thanked Emergency Preparedness Administrator Kara Cahill for her assistance. As hundreds of Valley residents slowly filed into Raven Hall for their vaccine appointments, Dillow was overwhelmed with pride in her community for coming together.
“Everybody is like so game to double their worklodad on these days and come and do this,” said Dillow. “Really the big news is what a great community we have.”
There have been a total of 49,203 Alaskans who have tested positive for COVID-19 including another 288 residents whose positive tests were reported on Wednesday. There have been 1,115 Alaskans hospitalized due to COVID-19 and 225 have died. In the Mat-Su, 6,934 total residents have tested positive with 26 new cases on Wednesday. There have been 74 hospitalizations and 18 deaths.
“It is so fabulous. I can tell you it’s been overwhelming, the first week when it was opened up to 65 plus of course we had so many phone calls and these people are frightened of getting covid and really frightened of getting covid and dying and this is one answer to help with that,” said Dillow. “It is just amazing. It is so wonderful the way the community comes together and this has been such a hard year but it’s brought so many partnerships that wouldn’t have otherwise happened and it’s a privilege to be part of it. It really is.”