Sitkan Charlie Wilber gets his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, joining over 2500 Sitkans who have rolled up their sleeves for the shot (KCAW/Berett Wilber)

The mood was lighter than usual when public officials gathered for the Sitka Unified Command meeting on Wednesday. (1-27-21).

That’s because Sitka’s COVID numbers were trending down. At the same time, the number of Sitkans receiving a first dose of the vaccine spiked, as SEARHC and White’s Pharmacy administered clinics throughout the week.

SEARHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elliot Bruhl said they would likely vaccinate another 800 people between Wednesday and Friday. Add that to over 500 shots administered by White’s Pharmacy, and the numbers are strong with over 2500 Sitkans receiving a first vaccine dose since mid-December. Many of those patients have already received their second shot.

Bruhl said he expected a steady shipment of vaccines in February. 

“I’m looking, right now, in February at around 3000 additional doses for SEARHC. Of course not all of that will be utilized in Sitka,” he said. “But we will continue to be able to vaccinate significant numbers of people in Sitka.” 

Bruhl said SEARHC had already distributed 6000 vaccines throughout the region and planned to administer 10,000 vaccines by March.

SEARHC is currently scheduling vaccines for patients 55 and over and essential workers. Bruhl said that they still need younger people to register, even if they don’t currently qualify for the vaccine. He said it’s crucial so SEARHC can plan ahead and notify patients as soon as the vaccine is available to them.

“If you’re 20 or you’re 35, even if you’re not an essential worker, we want you to register,” he said. “You don’t need to worry that you’re going to be taking a vaccine away from an older person.”

Sitka School District Superintendent John Holst said around half of staff members who wanted the vaccine are now fully vaccinated, and the rest have received the first shot. He said the school district and Mt. Edgecumbe High School were celebrating Sitka’s low COVID risk level with a basketball game. Holst hoped Sitka didn’t see new, more contagious variants of the virus, like the B.1.1.7 strain recently identified in Alaska, any time soon.

“That might be the end of our activities for a while if it gets a foothold here because it’s so contagious. So that’s a concern, but kids are in school.”

“We’re living in the sweet spot folks,” he continued. “There isn’t anyone else that’s got what we’ve got right now, so we better be thankful.”

Sitka’s COVID risk level shifted to “low” on Thursday for the first time since last fall. It shifted back to ‘moderate’ after new cases were tracked over the weekend, but even during low risk periods, health officials continue to stress mask wearing and following CDC guidelines.

Editor’s Note: As of Friday morning, SEARHC spokesperson Maegan Bosak confirmed in an email to KCAW that 2139 Sitkans had received their first shot from SEARHC, with about half of them receiving a final dose, too.