Officials say first vaccines could arrive in Alaska by mid-December

A syringe next to eight little glass bottles
FDA image

The very first COVID-19 vaccine doses may arrive in Alaska before the month is out. But there will be very little of it, and logistics to distribute it are not easy.

Five hundred people were on a call Thursday afternoon to talk about distributing COVID-19 vaccines in Alaska. Dr. Tessa Walker Linderman the DHSS lead for the Alaska COVID-19 Vaccination Task Force, said the vaccine could be available in the next couple weeks. 

“We likely won’t see vaccine within Alaska until sometime mid-December, and we’ll hope to start vaccinating soon after the vaccine arrives in Alaska,” she said.

Pfizer submitted its application to the FDA on November 20, and is expecting Food and Drug Administration emergency approval in a week, on Dec. 11, said Linderman. Moderna submitted its application on Monday, earlier this week, and will likely get emergency authorization a week after Pfizer.

“We’ve been told to expect regular shipments, even on a weekly basis, of both Moderna and Pfizer going forward,” she said. 

On Tuesday, the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP met to outline priorities for who would get the vaccine first.

ACIP recommended that when a COVID-19 vaccine is authorized by FDA and recommended by ACIP, both 1) health care personnel and 2) residents of long-term care facilities be offered vaccination first.

Sondra LeClair, the Deputy Lead for the Task Force and Rural and Community Health Systems Section Chief for DHSS said the first group will get doses in Phase 1A.

CREDIT ALASKA COVID-19 VACCINATION TASK FORCE

Dr. Linderman told providers they should expect a fast expansion through the spring.

“If a certain group is not prioritized in Phase 1A, Week 1, there will be Week 2, and Week 3 and Week 4 and so on. We will be continually opening up the prioritization as we received more.”

Other pharmaceutical companies may get approval in 2021, and Alaska will get vaccine doses from them as they become available.

The medicine will come by airplane to Anchorage, then distributed, possibly right at the airport.

“Alaska has an existing system to get vaccines from the manufacturer all the way to the rural parts of our state,” said Matt Bobo, with Public Health’s Section of Epidemiology. He said the state will do a practice run to test adding more distribution points to the network.

“This will be a heavier lift; there are more providers enrolled. With the Pfizer vaccine, we did do a test shipment from the manufacturer to Anchorage, and it arrived safely. It actually came today [Thursday]. And so we’ll be doing some test shipments with providers we don’t usually ship to, just to get folks used to the practice,” he said. 

Alaska’s allocation process will not include military service members, who will be vaccinated separately through a federal allocation.

The Division of Public Health will be daily updating the Vaccine Distribution Program website at COVIDVax.alaska.gov