UPDATE (12-29-20, 10:20 AM): SEARHC began offering vaccinations to the public this week in Sitka. SEARHC issued a new press release Tuesday morning, correcting numbers from Monday’s release. In Sitka, the COVID-19 vaccine is now available for those aged 75 and older, medically vulnerable individuals and essential workers. A community vaccination clinic will be held Tuesday, December 29th, at Harrigan Centennial Hall from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Click here to register.
ORIGINAL REPORT (12-26-20 1 P.M.):
The recent emergency authorization of  a second vaccine will mean more Sitkans should be getting immunized against the coronavirus in the near future. The Moderna vaccine is also an easier product to store and deliver, and will expedite immunization in Southeast villages.

Officials in Sitka are already working on a strategy for expanding the availability of immunization to the public.

As of December 23, around 600 Sitkans had received the first round of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. When the Sitka Unified Command met on Wednesday (12-23-20)  Fire Chief Craig Warren said SEARHC had vaccinated around 500 people in the initial round.  At a clinic at the fire hall for first responders, techs from Harry Race and White’s Pharmacy vaccinated another 106 people. 

“The really impressive part to me was that right now Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center has distributed this throughout Southeast, and system-wide there are around 950 vaccinations,” he said. “So that’s just…that’s a powerful number to me.”

SEARHC Chief Medical officer Dr. Elliot Bruhl said the same week they distributed vaccines in Klawock, Kake, Angoon, Wrangell, Haines, and Klukwan, particularly directed at healthcare providers and the congregate elderly in those communities. Weather complicated the distribution to remote communities. 

“It was really horrible, and we ended up being able to bring some of that vaccine out by plane and some of it required boats and float planes and such,” Bruhl said. “But we did manage to get pretty much all of those groups done.”

He said the first shipment of the Moderna Vaccine arrived before the Christmas holiday. Since that vaccine has a longer shelf life it will be prioritized for remote communities. 

Bruhl added that over the last week of December and beginning of January SEARHC would prioritize 500 vaccinations for octogenarians in Juneau and Sitka. Then they’ll start focusing on the next group, IB.

“As we receive additional vaccine we’ll be able to continue to work into the rest of the 1B recommendations. So the 1B recommendations being people over age 75, people who are essential front-line workers, which includes people who are in grocery stores and people who are teachers and work in education,” he said. “And then, in that 1B, we’re also including people who are highly vulnerable.” 

The state is still working on its recommendations for exactly who is included in the 1B vaccine group. Those will likely be finalized by the end of the year. Bruhl, who also serves on the state’s vaccine allocation committee, reiterated that though they’ve received major vaccine shipments over the last few weeks, future allocations are still unknown. 

“The state does not know, I think it’s important for everyone to realize, the numbers of vaccine that are going to be shipped out- it’s unknown at the state level,” he said. “We don’t know and they don’t know. It depends on what gets pushed from the feds. But I’m hopeful.”

“It’s not like the vaccine is piled up waiting to be given,” he continued. “So, we’re talking about things that we will be receiving in the future, and we don’t know what those numbers are but it’s essential that we’re ready to go, and as it comes to us we’re getting it out based on those sequences.” 

The state-run Pioneer Home still has not received a vaccine distribution. Public Health Nurse Denise Ewing said Safeway Pharmacy was contracted by the state to distribute vaccines to the Pioneer Home, but they haven’t confirmed a date for distribution.

SEARHC recently released a sign-up list for vaccinations, which will be released in waves as they arrive in Sitka over the next several months. 

Sitkans can fill out the survey here to be added to SEARHC’s list to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.