Alaska will receive a special first shipment of the new COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by drug company Pfizer that will be enough to protect some 5% of the state’s population, health officials said Monday.
The shipment of 35,100 doses could arrive next week and be administered starting soon after, pending required federal approvals, officials from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said at a media briefing Monday.
Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, described the news as “incredibly exciting” as Alaska grapples with a sharp spike in case numbers that’s testing hospital capacity.
“It’s kind of like landing a plane: I think it’s going to be a turbulent couple months. There’s a lot going on with a lot of cases,” she said. “But the end is in sight.”
Another shipment of 17,900 doses of a different vaccine produced by drug company Moderna is expected soon after the arrival of the Pfizer doses.
The state is prioritizing the first batch of vaccines for frontline health care workers, along with residents of long-term care facilities like nursing homes who have suffered a disproportionately high number of deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emergency responders who are providing medical care are also included in “Phase 1a” of the vaccine distribution, state officials said at the media briefing. There are roughly 25,000 people in those groups, said Tessa Walker Linderman, a top state vaccination official.
Unlike other states, which are receiving their first vaccine shipments in weekly batches, the federal government is treating Alaska like territory and shipping its first month’s supply all at once, Zink said.
That’s in part because of Alaska’s sprawling size and the logistical challenges of moving the Pfizer vaccine, which must be kept at minus 95 F and only lasts for five days in a refrigerator once thawed.
This is a breaking news story — check back for updates.