Pharmacist Dirk White administers a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to Fire Chief Craig Warren on December 16. Warren is among the frontline health care providers and first responders who were the first to be vaccinated. (KCAW/McKinstry)

Over 1200 Sitkans have received the coronavirus vaccine since it arrived in the middle of the night three weeks ago. Local officials stress that vaccines will be available to anyone who wants them at some point, but for now, supplies remain limited. As KCAW’s Erin McKinstry reports, navigating who does qualify for the vaccine and where to sign up has been a source of confusion for many Sitkans.

Sitkans have two options with two different sets of rules for getting the coronavirus vaccine. One is Harry Race Pharmacy, which is working with the state. The pharmacy vaccinated just over 100 people at the fire hall in December and is starting second doses for those first responders, police officers, troopers and other emergency personnel. 

The city is also directing anyone 65 and older who wants a vaccine to register through the state and the pharmacy’s websites. That’s after the state broke with federal recommendations and issued guidelines prioritizing elders 65 and older over frontline essential workers. But that form showed no available appointment times as of Friday.

Pharmacist Dirk White said at a Sitka Unified Command meeting on Wednesday (1-6-21) that they do have 100 Moderna vaccines on hand and 100 more on the way. They plan to administer vaccines on Wednesday, January 13 and 20.

“We’re setting up and prepping and following the tiers that the state’s giving us to go by for administration,” White said.

The second option is through the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. Anyone interested in a vaccine can register through their website and will receive a phone call to schedule an appointment, said city Public Information Officer Jessica Ieremia.

“And they will only call you when your phase or tier comes up, not beforehand,” she said. “So if you’re wondering why you haven’t received a phone call yet, it is because your tier has not come up yet.”

SEARHC’s phases for rolling out the vaccine in Sitka currently differ from the state’s. They’re prioritizing people 75 and older and frontline essential workers, as defined by the CDC. That includes people who work in childcare, education, food, agriculture, and manufacturing as well as postal, grocery store, and public transit workers; corrections officers; and first responders. 

At Wednesday’s Unified Command meeting, SEARHC Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Elliot Bruhl, said that discrepancy is partly because the state changed their guidelines on New Year’s Eve, after SEARHC had already started implementing their vaccination plan based on national recommendations.

“The issue with the vaccine sequencing has been that the guidelines from the state have changed three times in the last seven days,” Bruhl said.

SEARHC spokesperson Maegan Bosak said future clinic dates will be announced as more vaccines become available. Dr. Bruhl emphasized that the vaccine is a limited resource–that’s why the guidelines are necessary.

“Really what we’re doing is we’re trying to follow the state and national guidelines that are based on medical experts as well as ethicists who are looking at fair and equitable distribution of this,” he said. “And trying to get it into populations that are most effected by the virus.”

Bruhl said SEARHC is starting to administer the second dose of the vaccine to frontline health care workers. The second dose of the Pfizer vaccine is given 21 days after the first. The second dose of the Moderna vaccine is given after 28 days.

Erin McKinstry is a Report for America corps member.