K-12 teachers will be able to get COVID-19 vaccine in latest expansion of eligibility

This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like. Credit: NIAID-RML.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced it will expand the eligibility for the covid-19 vaccine starting Thursday to cover K-12 teachers, people 50 and older with high-risk medical conditions or who are essential workers, as well as people living or working in congregate housing settings.

The expansion of the eligibility for state-supplied vaccines comes after weeks of pressure to prioritize teachers for vaccination as frustration with nearly a year of school closures in some parts of the state boils over. The vaccination of adults over 65 was expected to consume much of February’s supply but that has slowed and about 2,000 appointments were left open this week.

The expansion is only for the state-supplied vaccine programs. The military and Alaska Native health groups have their own programs and can set their own prioritization. All told, though, the state reports that 114,117 people have received at least one of the two doses of the vaccine, making Alaska the most vaccinated state in the country on a per capita basis.

Still, the future of the state’s vaccination effort is unclear as the Legislature is increasingly likely to allow the state’s public health disaster declaration expire. State officials have warned that much of the powers to distribute vaccines and set up clinics is tied to the state’s disaster declaration powers. Some legislators are considering moves that would give the governor the power to act unilaterally while the Legislature is at odds.

Regardless of the Legislature, the state expects the demand for the vaccine to outpace the supply in the coming weeks, but Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said the change will allow different communities the flexibility to ensure that the available doses get used.

“As we get vaccine out quickly, efficiently, and equitably across the state, we are constantly balancing supply and demand,” she said in a prepared statement accompanying the announcement. “Given some additional vaccine that will be coming soon into the state, the remaining February allocation and an estimation of March’s vaccine allocation, we have decided to move forward with this large tier. While we know this next group is large, and there will be more demand than supply at first, this gives communities more flexibility to move quickly. The demand will be met over time as more vaccine becomes available.”

The expanded eligibility includes teachers and staff working in K-12 schools, people age 50 and above with high-risk health conditions or who work as essential workers, some pandemic responders and people living or working in congregate housing, which includes the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, prisons, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, transitional living homes and residential substance abuse treatment facilities.

The expansion to these congregate housing situations is particularly important after the state saw massive outbreaks at prisons. In December, nearly every inmate at Alaska’s largest prison contracted covid. According to data obtained by the Anchorage Daily News, 1,115 inmates out of a total 1,263 inmates at Goose Creek Correctional Center had tested positive after the first case was reported a month earlier.

For more information on the updated eligibility, visit the state’s vaccination website. The easiest way to find a vaccine appointment anywhere in Alaska is on https://anchoragecovidvaccine.org/

Updated eligibility from the state:

  • People age 50 years and above who have any of the following high-risk medical conditions: cancer; chronic kidney disease; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); Down syndrome; heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies; immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant; obesity; severe obesity; sickle cell disease; smoking; Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes mellitus; and pregnancy. For more information, visit this CDC webpage.
  • Education staff, regardless of age, limited to pre-K-12 educators and support staff (e.g. custodial, food service, transportation); child care workers and support staff; and indigenous language and culture bearers.
  • Limited pandemic response staff who may come into contact with the SARS-CoV-2 virus during outbreak response activities.
  • Frontline essential workers 50 years and above who work within six feet of others. This includes law enforcement, public safety, first responders, food and agriculture workers, transportation and logistics workers, water, wastewater and utility workers and more. For a complete list, please visit the vaccine eligibility webpage and also refer to federal guidance provided by Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
  • People living or working in other congregate settings not covered in Phase 1a, limited to:
    • Acute psychiatric facilities;
    • Correctional settings;
    • Group homes for individuals with disabilities or mental and behavioral health conditions;
    • Homeless and domestic violence shelters;
    • Substance misuse and treatment residential facilities; and
    • Transitional living homes.

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