Hundreds of Anchorage residents could have COVID-19 vaccine appointments canceled

a person prepares a syringe to deliver a vaccine to another person
Anchorage School District nurse Jennifer Perkins prepares to administer the Moderna Covid-19 vaccination to retired chemistry teacher David Boyd. Boyd was one of 771 people who received vaccines at the ASD Education Center on Jan. 7, 2021. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Hundreds of Anchorage residents who scheduled appointments for COVID-19 vaccines could have their appointments canceled. 

That’s because about 500 residents signed up for vaccinations even though they weren’t eligible under the state’s current criteria, according to city health officials. 

Speaking at a Saturday press call, Anchorage Health Department Director Heather Harris asked residents who mistakenly signed up to cancel their appointments themselves. Those who don’t will have their appointments canceled on Monday. 

Harris said the mistaken sign-ups are largely due to confusion about who is eligible. 

“My experience so far has really not been that there’s an intentional push or trying to circumvent the system itself. That could be the case for some individuals,” she said. 

Part of the confusion may come from teachers. The Anchorage School District’s mass vaccination clinic may have caused some of the confusion, said Harris. Though the clinic is at the district headquarters, it is only for those who are eligible under the state’s current criteria. 

“Although it’s the school district that’s vaccinating, it’s not a site for teachers to go to unless they meet the eligibility criteria,” said Harris. 

Currently, only Alaskans over 65 and healthcare workers are eligible for state-administered vaccines.

Thousand of vaccination slots opened in Anchorage on Thursday after Alaska got a new shipment of vaccine. Nearly 1500 appointments were still available at Anchorage’s mass vaccination clinic at the Alaska Airlines Center as of Sunday afternoon.

It’s unclear why slots weren’t filled as fast as they were in January, when appointments were at capacity within a matter of hours. 

“The last time we opened up our January appointments, they went like hotcakes. And it’s a little bit slower. And we’re not quite sure why,” said Public Health Director Heidi Hedberg.

Issues navigating the website could be slowing down some seniors who aren’t comfortable with computers. 

The state’s estimate of how many seniors reside in Alaska could also be a factor. The state estimated that there are 93,000 Alaskans over 65, but that may not account for seniors who live elsewhere in the winter. 

“Do we have a ton of snowbirds out there?” said Hedberg. “Maybe we don’t have 93,000 seniors in Alaska.”

Officials said issues with transportation or internet access could be preventing seniors from getting appointments. There could also be vaccine hesitancy. 

Walker-Linderman urged Alaskans to reach out to family and neighbors who might be struggling to make vaccination appointments.

“That is our challenge and our charge, to those that are younger,” said Walker-Linderman 

If appointments aren’t filled, the state could expand eligibility, said Hedberg, director of public health for the state. 

“That, I think, is a question that we’re wrestling with on an hourly, daily basis,” she said. 

Hedberg said the state isn’t currently ready to make any changes to eligibility. For now, she said, the health department is focused on getting the word out to those who are eligible — there is still vaccine available.

“We need to make sure our seniors are vaccinated first,” she said.