Beginning in late September, booster shots will be available for Sitkans who are 8 months out from getting their first two coronavirus vaccine doses.  

When Sitka’s Unified Command met last week (9-1-21), SEARHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elliot Bruhl fleshed out the difference between a “booster shot” and a “third vaccine,”  which is what local vaccine clinics are currently administering to immunocompromised patients. 

“We’ve been providing vaccines to people who are moderately or severely immunocompromised,” said Bruhl. “Our medical staff has been working with patients to get them in. I think we’ve given over 150 in the last week. So that’s technically not a booster vaccine– that’s a third vaccine.”

Bruhl said there continues to be complex and slightly conflicting information about “booster shots” from the FDA and the CDC, but the main point to bring home is this:

“Booster vaccines will be getting offered throughout the country including here starting on the twentieth of September,” he said. “We haven’t heard anything that contradicts that. We certainly have been working diligently to set ourselves up to be able to accommodate that.”

Bruhl said when SEARHC opens registration for booster shots, the process will be similar to when vaccines were first available, and Sitkans can register online using a QR code. 

Bruhl said hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Sitka remained low over the last week. And he maintained that the vaccine continues to be effective at preventing hospitalizations. He said that the vast majority of patients recently hospitalized for COVID-19 in Anchorage, which is currently in crisis mode with many hospitals full and unable to accept patients, have not been vaccinated. He said in the last two months, none of the ICU admittees at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage had been vaccinated. 

“And that’s not saying it can’t happen. It will, actually. I mean, the numbers would say that at some point, there will be somebody. And we know that we have actually had one or two deaths from COVID for vaccinated patients in the state,” he said. “But the reality is that 95%-97% of all of the hospitalizations that are going on up in the Anchorage area, which are affecting our health care system, are in unvaccinated people.”

“That’s not an occasion for us to, you know, to scold or to in any way disparage people that are struggling to make the choice,” he continued. “But it is an opportunity for me as a physician, and for all of us who are involved in the healthcare system, to be encouraging people to to get the vaccine.”

SEARHC and Harry Race pharmacy continue to hold vaccine clinics for first-timers and immunocompromised individuals in need of a third vaccine dose. Public Health Nurse Denise Ewing said more details about booster shot access will become available in the coming weeks.